An international convention for paralyzed athletes scheduled for April in Phnom Penh has been moved to Kuala Lumpur amid confusion over how money and arrangements for travel and accommodations were being handled by the Cambodian government.
International Paralympic Committee representatives from more than 140 nations were planning to attend the April 25 to April 30 convention at the Hotel Inter-Continental. Minister of Cabinet Sok An had called it the biggest convention ever to be held in Cambodia.
A 12-team international disabled volleyball tournament planned in conjunction with the convention has also been canceled.
Cambodian athletic officials hoped the convention and tournament would build support for Cambodia’s disabled volleyball team, a collection of land-mine victims who became media darlings at the 2000 Paralympic Games in Sydney.
Susanne Reiff, director of media and communication for the IPC, said funding setbacks caused by flooding in Cambodia and other unforeseen circumstances had thrown off the time frame for planning the convention and forced the IPC to look elsewhere.
But one IPC official who asked not to be named voiced concern about Cambodia’s ability to handle convention arrangements in a timely and transparent manner. The IPC and the Cambodian government signed a convention agreement earlier in the year after the athletic officials met with Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Yi Veasna, secretary-general of the National Paralympic Committee of Cambodia, said as far as he knew the Cambodian government had received only one communique from the IPC stating that the organization had decided to move the convention.
“I need to receive more information before I can really understand what happened,” Yi Veasna said. “I thought we had an agreement. At the least, they should come have a meeting with us and tell us what we need to do, and maybe help us be able to do it.”
The IPC gave $6,000 to Cambodia and about 60 other poor countries to help cover their expenses for the Sydney Games. Cambodia sent only the volleyball team to Sydney.
Money is always tight for Cambodian sports teams. Chris Minko, an Australian who recently finished a four-year stint as an adviser to the disabled volleyball program, wrote up a proposed six-month budget of $15,356 that he estimated would cover the salary for a program coordinator, plus transportation and office costs.
The real losers, observers say, are the members of the national disabled volleyball team, who had an invitation for a European tour plus the 12-team Phnom Penh tourney to look forward to as a result of their popularity in Sydney, where print and electronic media told the land-mine victims’ stories and crowds flocked to their matches.
Now the players have mostly returned to their provincial homes and will wait to hear if they will be playing again anytime soon. Yi Veesna said he hoped the team could travel to Australia for a tournament in 2001.
There are also tentative plans for a wheelchair basketball team to play this year in a tournament in Thailand.