The biennial disabled volleyball World Cup kicked off at Phnom Penh’s Olympic Stadium on Saturday to the cheers of about 4,000 spectators and under the gaze of the Prime Minister’s wife, Bun Rany.
The Cambodian disabled volleyball team won a decisive straight sets victory over neighboring Laos in the opening match.
Titleholder Germany, Slovakia and the relatively unknown teams of Kazakhstan and Sri Lanka are also competing in the tournament, which ends Friday.
From the first rallies of the opening match, it was clear that the taller, more-experienced Cambodian team would earned an easy victory. The inexperience of Laos, making its tournament debut, showed during the 55-minute match, with Cambodia winning the three sets 25-2, 25-12 and 25-7. Most of the crowd, made up largely of students, scouts and Red Cross youth, emptied out of the stadium when Ms Rany left after the second set.
After Saturday’s victory, Kratie-born Noung Piroth, 35, who lost his left arm to a mine at the age of 2, liked Cambodia’s chances of winning the title. “I hope we will win until the end and get the gold medal,” Mr Piroth said.
Willie Guillory, Cambodia’s fitness and motivation coach, said Laos seemed shocked at the level of play. “We could have made it worse, but we’re not here to embarrass anyone,” Mr Guillory said.
The World Cup was organized by Cambodia National Volleyball League (Disabled), in association with World Organization Volleyball for Disabled.
Australian Barry Couzner, WOVD tournament director, said that six years ago, Cambodia played like Laos. “Cambodia has improved so much, so I think Laos can do the same,” Mr Couzner said.
Cambodia’s performance suggested that it could reach the finals, he said. “Although they were not stretched or tested fully, you could see from their skills that they are a very good team.”
In other matches, Germany beat Kazakhstan 3-0, and Slovakia, the world’s number two, needed eight sets to top Sri Lanka, 5-3.
Christopher Minko, president of CNVLD, said the Asian countries were more of a challenge this year. “I’m confident that the Cambodia team has got every chance of winning number one,” Mr Minko said.
During the opening ceremony, Ms Rany welcomed the progress in disabled volleyball. “This event also shows the ability, talent and potential of people with a disability who are able to get involved in every activity of society,” Ms Rany said.
Men Neary Sopheak, deputy secretary general of the Cambodian Red Cross and director of Ms Rany’s office, said Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife on Saturday made donations of more than $50,000 to the CNVLD for World Cup costs, as well as about $5,000 to the Cambodian team and about $2,500 to the event’s organizing committee.
In yesterday’s matches, Cambodia defeated Sri Lanka 3-2, while Kazakhstan beat Laos 3-0 and Germany bested Slovakia 3-0.