Vath Chamroeun, the Secretary-General of the National Olympic Committee, yesterday denied a report that Cambodia had shelved its plans to host the 2023 Southeast Asia Games – the region’s premier sporting event.
“Cambodia will continue to host the SEA Games in 2023,” said Mr Chamroeun, reacting to a report in yesterday’s Khmer Times that wrongly stated that Prime Minister Hun Sen had pulled out of hosting the Southeast Asian sporting spectacle.
“This information can mislead the public,” he said. “I affirm that the process of organising and hosting the 2023 SEA Games is going smoothly.
“We have prepared in stages with all plans, both in infrastructure and human resources development. We are ready.”
Prime Minister Hun Sen spoke on Monday at a ground-breaking ceremony for a bridge across the Tonle Sap River in Phnom Penh, saying the government wanted to focus on infrastructure projects and would rather spend the money on projects the people needed than host the games.
“The government is trying to save money,” he said. “I do not want to host the SEA Games before 2023.
“If we want to host the SEA Games, we have to spend millions to make venues for the sports and for athletes to stay, and we’d rather put that money toward building more bridges and roads.”
Due to a translation error, it was wrongly reported that Mr Hun Sen had pulled out of hosting the games.
Construction for SEA Games-related projects started in April 2013 on a 94-hectare lot near National Road 5 in Russei Keo district on the northern outskirts of Phnom Penh.
The large sports complex under construction for the last four years in northern Phnom Penh includes a new multi-million dollar stadium which will form the centrepiece for 2023.
It is estimated to cost about $200 million when completed.
The complex will accommodate 100,000 people, while the main stadium will hold between 60,000 and 75,000 spectators.
This is a marked increase from Cambodia’s current largest stadium – the Olympic Stadium, which was completed in 1964 and designed by the late Cambodian architect Vann Molyvann.
Mr Molyvann originally designed the stadium for the 1963 Southeast Asian Peninsular Games, which is the original name of the SEA Games.
The 1963 Games were, however, cancelled due to political problems.
Construction of the new main stadium is key to helping the kingdom meet the high international standards demanded for the SEA Games.
The Chinese government had agreed to fund Phase 2 of the complex and finance its completion.
The committee anticipates that the sports complex will be completed in its entirety by 2020 or 2021.
The news echoes that of another regional strongman; controversial Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who re-pledged to host the 2019 edition of the SEA Games after threatening to pull out, arguing resources were needed elsewhere.
In July, Philippine Sports Commission chairman William Ramirez said President Duterte would instead divert resources to rebuild the conflict-wracked regions of Mindanao and Marawi.
However, a swift U-turn was announced in mid-august with Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Robespierre Bolivar reporting that the 2019 SEA Games would go ahead in the Philippines.