Updated: Cambodia officially launched the Southeast Asian Games in a lavish opening ceremony Friday evening as ASEAN athletes, honorary guests and performers paraded to applause.
“Bravo! Kingdom of Cambodia. Bravo! Peace and development,” Prime Minister Hun Sen said at the opening ceremony in the newly constructed Morodok Techo Stadium in Phnom Penh. “On behalf of the King of the Kingdom of Cambodia, on behalf of the Royal Government and myself, I announce the opening of the 23nd Southeast Asian Games in 2023 from now on.”
Hun Sen had announced in late March that tickets to the games would be free tickets and expenses for all participating countries, such as transportation, accommodation and meals, covered by the host country.
But ticketing issues have left some would-be spectators out of the festivities, despite waiting in long lines for hours or trying to make reservations for events on the official app.
“I am very excited that Cambodia, this year’s first host of the SEA Games, because we missed out for more than 60 years,” football fan Von Tur Rong told CamboJA. “People who want to attend but do not have a ticket like me would request that we distribute tickets and tell the time and place clearly.”
He said the app has been difficult to use to book tickets and kept freezing, preventing him from securing tickets. He and others had to wait in line for hours but were still not able to gain entrance.
“Modification of the app could make it easier for those who want to visit and support both in Phnom Penh and from the provinces, including for foreigners, because it is convenient and saves time and it is difficult to stand for hours and not get a ticket,” TurRong said.
Sports enthusiast Som Rithy said that it is a great privilege for Cambodia to host but sad for fans who were left out.
“I think people still can go to enjoy the games despite the fact that they do not have tickets, but they should work with all authorities to facilitate the process because there are lots of fans, so everything is chaotic”, Rithy said.
“For me as a football fan, I feel quite sad, but anyway I can support from home”, he added.
Members of the media have also expressed confusion about seemingly arbitrary restrictions for entry.
A Phnom Penh Post-affiliated photographer, Yousos Apdoulrashim, said that he felt bewildered by how the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia [NOCC] appeared to let some photographers in without proper ID while others who lacked the ID were still restricted.
“Some photographers who do not have the card, like me, still cannot go. It is strange. I feel so disappointed that there are restrictions for photographers like me,” he said.
The Information Ministry’s General Director for the Department Information and Broadcasting, Phos Sovann, said that there is “limited access” for photographers \shooting photos at the opening host Sea Games.
“We allow access to places where it is not important,” he said. “They can enter there in unlimited numbers, they are arranged where it is not directly shooting [photo] in front of [the event], but in some locations like VIP, we have limited each county to about 5 to 6 people,” he said.
“I can say all sports have their own rule, so we have a rule too,for example the competition between Thai and Indonesia, we will provide a priority to those countries,” he said. “We [photographers] can access but we divide as a category of journalists like home broadcasters or host broadcasters.”
Despite the apparent logistical issues, the event has undoubtedly been grandiose. Dignitaries from the region convened in Cambodia to witness the opening ceremony, including Lao President Thongloun Sisoulith. Sier Miang, first vice-president of the International Olympic Committee, offered his congratulations to Cambodia.
As of mid-Saturday, Cambodia has won six gold, four silver and two bronze medals, putting it at the top of ASEAN as of Saturday morning, according to the games’ official website.
“This current SEA Games is a historic event for Cambodia that Cambodians have been waiting for for 64 years,” Hun Sen posted on his Facebook Saturday morning. “Every Cambodian is very proud and excited to see such a spectacular and unprecedented moment.”
As of Saturday morning, Cambodia had 10 total medals and was among the leading ASEAN Nations in the games. Cambodia has won gold and silver medals in Kun Bokator and Ju-Jitsu.
Cambodian-American Khan Jessa won a silver medal after being beaten by Filipino jiu-jitsu athlete Kaila Isip Napolis, who won a gold medal in Women’s Ne-Waz GI-52kg on Thursday 4. The cash prize for a gold medal is 40 million riels or around $9,600.
The Philippines has won four gold medals and 14 overall, while Indonesia has three gold medals and 11 total.
On May 2, General Sao Sokha announced he would resign from the presidency of the Football Federation of Cambodia if the U-22 men’s football match fell to a semi-final match.
“If the men’s U-22 football team is not able to pass to the semi-final match, I am in a spirit of responsibility as the president of FFC and will resign immediately,” he posted.
“In case, it has happened to me, I request the executive committee Football Federation of Cambodia and general secretariat to hold congress to elect a new president FFC,” he said.
He said he has devoted 10 years so far to promoting the honor of Cambodia in the football sector.
Cambodia beat Timor Leste 3 to 0 and drew 1 to 1 with the Philippines. Several more matches remain and Cambodia appears to need another win to advance to the sem-final.
Sao Sokha, declined to comment when a CamboJA reporter was reached via telephone.
Secretary general of the Cambodia Sea Games Organizing Committee Vath Chamroeun could not be reached for comment.
The games will run until May 17.
This story has been updated since its original publication at 10:21 a.m.