Every Sunday afternoon, one group of bowlers stands out among the regular patrons of the Blu-O bowling alley at Aeon Mall in Phnom Penh. While everyone else laughs and drinks, the members of this group wear uniforms, play with their own bowling balls and are very serious about not missing a single strike.
“We don’t really like it here. It’s too noisy. It’s not a proper place for serious training,” complained Joseph Choong, 55, a Malaysian national and vice-president of the Cambodian Bowling Association (CBA).
Founded in 2014, the association is trying to build interest around competitive bowling in Cambodia, where the tastes of most sports enthusiasts run to football, boxing and volleyball. The CBA is sponsored by Tiger Beer, which pays for their official shirts, shoes and backpacks—but not for their lane fees at Blu-O ($6 per game) or balls, which can cost more than $200 each, according to Mr. Choong.
The association’s ultimate goal is to assemble a national bowling team to represent Cambodia in regional competitions, where nations like Malaysia and the Philippines reign supreme.
But for that to happen, the CBA needs an official endorsement from the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia. “We hope we can get it [by] the end of this year,” Mr. Choong said, adding that the necessary documentation was submitted to the NOCC in late March.
Mr. Choong, a business consultant, moved to Cambodia in the early 1990s and has been bowling since 1978. When the country’s first bowling alley opened in 1996, in the Hong Kong Center on Sothearos Boulevard, he and his friends began to gather there.
Those lanes and equipment were then moved to Parkway Square, and Mr. Choong’s crowd played there until the alley was shut down in 2013.
Last year, they decided to create the CBA, which now gathers at Aeon Mall every weekend—not to play, but “to train.” Mr. Choong fondly remembers the days at Parkway, where “the music wasn’t so loud,” but other CBA members say they are happy to have a place to practice at all.
“For most people, bowling is just an excuse to socialize and hang out with friends, not something to become professional,” said Danny Sourn, one of the CBA’s few Cambodian members. The 27-year-old television producer said that despite his busy schedule, he made time to bowl at least once a week.
While waiting for his turn to play at Blu-O, Mr. Sourn used his smartphone to pull up several videos of Australian bowler Jason Belmonte, his idol. “He plays with two fingers and this is really hard. Only about 20 or 30 percent of the bowlers play with two fingers. I don’t think anyone in Cambodia plays like that.”
Born and raised in Phnom Penh, Mr. Sourn hopes to represent his country internationally one day, but is not confident that will happen anytime soon.
“I think the government is not too impressed with our team—yet.”