Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Starting Blocks: Cambodia Races to Prepare Kingdom for 2023 SEA Games

Kaing Muynin 16, swims during a practise for ASEAN Game 2023, at the Olympic stadium in Phnom Penh, Picture taken July 14, 2022. CamboJA/Pring Samrang
Kaing Muynin 16, swims during a practise for ASEAN Game 2023, at the Olympic stadium in Phnom Penh, Picture taken July 14, 2022. CamboJA/Pring Samrang

Vath Chamroeun is a busy man with daunting challenges. As secretary general of the Cambodian SEA Games Organizing Committee (CAMSOC), he is one of the main officials in charge of making sure the Kingdom is ready to host the 2023 Southeast Asian Games — and the clock is ticking.

Chamroeun and his CAMSOC team have less than a year to finalize all preparations for the 32nd SEA Games to be held from May 5 to 17 in Phnom Penh and other Cambodian cities. This is no small task: This year’s SEA Games in Vietnam featured nearly 5,500 athletes from 11 countries, and 526 events in 40 sports. 

The challenge is made more difficult by two factors: The 12th ASEAN Para Games are scheduled for a few weeks later in June — and Cambodia is coming off its most successful SEA Games ever, winning 63 medals, including nine gold medals, in Vietnam this year. Expectations and pressure are at an all-time high. 

Sports Selected

“For the upcoming 2023 SEA Games and ASEAN Para Games, Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Sihanoukville, Kep, and Kampot province will be used for the competitions,”  Chamroeun said, adding that the regional committee only recently approved the list of sports to be included in this year’s SEA Games. 

“As the chair of the Southeast Asian Sports Development Council and chair of the meeting, we have established 39 sports, and one acting sport, with the approval of all 11 member countries,” Vath Chamroeun said.

Vath Chamreoun, secretary general of the Cambodian SEA Games Organizing Committee (CAMSOC) speaks during a press conference in Phnom Penh, July 18, 2022. CamboJA/ Panha Chhorpoan

He added that the 39 selected sports included traditional Khmer sports such as Bokator, Khmer boxing and Ouk Chakktrong, a form of Khmer chess. 

Organizing the sporting events, however, was only one obstacle that faced Vath Chamroeun and his team. In his words, it was up to CAMSOC to develop specific plans and preparations.  

“First, the management and leadership structure of the event had to be set up,” he said. “Within this structure, the CAMSOC has already formed the rules, regulations, detailed plans, master plans, action plans, strategic plans and roadmaps.”

Stadium Stress

The next steps, according to Vath Chamroeun, concerned a more concrete issue: Making sure the sports venues and facilities were in working order, including the main stadium, Morodok Techo National Stadium, which will be used for the opening and closing ceremonies.

Vath Chamroeun said CAMSOC is waiting for the fast-tracked construction of a Sports Village in Morodok Techo National Stadium that can house between 5,000 to 7,000 people, including accommodation, food, security, conduct and transportation. 

To ratchet up the pressure even more, Prime Minister Hun Sen pledged last week at the opening ceremony of the ASEAN Para Sports Federation and Southeast Asian Games Federation Council Meeting that CAMSOC would carefully manage the upcoming events and make sure the preparations were done on time. 

Morodok Techo National Stadium in Phnom Penh will serve as the primary venue for the SEA Games. Events are scheduled for Kampot, Kep, Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville. Picture taken July 15, 2022. CamboJA/Pring Samrang

Hun Sen specifically cited the repair and improvement of venues, organizing the technology systems, planning the opening and closing ceremonies, as well as arranging the accommodation, food and transportation for athletes, coaches and officials.

Budget Oversight

The total cost to the Royal Government of Cambodia to host the 2023 SEA Games remains a matter of speculation. Vath Chamroeun said he did not know the total budget because it was provided by the Ministry of Economy and Finance, although he added that different government commissions were involved in certain repairs and other individual projects. 

Meas Soksensan, the spokesperson for the MEF, told CamboJA he did not have detailed information regarding the costs of the expansions, repairs and preparations for the sporting venues. He said the budget depends on the request and proposal from CAMSOC.

“In general, I know that for the SEA Games budget, we [the MoFE] are already prepared, so we follow the proposal of the sport commissions,” he said.

Workers repair the Olympic Stadium in Phnom Penh. Picture taken July 14, 2022. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang

Pech Pisey, executive director of Transparency International Cambodia, said there were various self-regulatory agencies in the MEF and an independent body of the National Assembly that would provide oversight to the SEA Games budget. 

“Additionally, there is the National Audit Authority, which is responsible for monitoring and evaluating the implementation of the budget,” he said. “[It] will determine whether it is in accordance with the principles and compliance with the law or if there are any problems.“

Halt Corruption

Pech Pisey said all budget management — whether for large budgets and institutions or working groups organized by the government — had three main principles. 

The first, he said, was ensuring a budget received extensive consultation with stakeholders. The second was implementing the budget with transparency, accountability and no corruption. The last was monitoring and evaluating the budget, specifically watching for added expenditures.

Pech Pisey said another important point, especially in construction projects such as sports infrastructure development for guests, was to safeguard the public procurement process from corruption.

“It must be ensured that all bids and purchases are not related to corruption, and the information related to public procurement should be widely disseminated,” he said.

Youth Programs

Nhan Sokvisal, director of the International Relations Department of the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia (NOCC), told CamboJA that an awareness campaign, known as the Olympic Values and Education Program, had been introduced to a number of schools in Phnom Penh and the provinces. 

He said his department works to teach students about the value of sport and encourages Cambodian youth to learn how to be proper hosts for the 2023 SEA Games.

“Our goal is to help young people understand the importance of sports in relation to mental and physical health and to keep them away from mischief and drugs,” he said.

“Sometimes, a sports career can change someone’s life. The goal of the government is to encourage all citizens to play a sport.”

Volunteers Wanted

That is likely welcome news to Vath Chamroeun, who emphasized that youth participation was a crucial part of a successful SEA Games. 

“We need 5,000 to 10,000 young volunteers to participate in the competitions and to organize [the event],” he said. 

He added that Prime Minister Hun Sen had raised the possibility of whether it would be possible to postpone a small vacation during the Khmer New Year until the end of the SEA Games to allow students to attend the events and then return to school.

Vath Chamroeun, despite his many challenges, praised the government for its support and encouragement. In the end, he said, hosting the SEA Games was not a problem at all because Cambodians are friendly and always greet guests with warmth and generosity.  

“So, our only real challenge is how to get as many medals as possible — and even more than in previous competitions,” Vath Chamroeun said.