The Siem Reap Globe Magazine Eagles defeated the Kompong Speu Global Giving Scorpions 3 to 0 to become the 2009 Cambodian National Volleyball League (Disabled) champions on Friday evening.
The winners, undefeated in all 10 matches they played, walked away with $3,000 while the Scorpions were consoled by $2,000. Earlier in the day the Phnom Penh ANZ Royal Dragons beat Kompong Speu CTN Koupreys 3 to 1 to gain third place in the national championship and $1,000 prize money.
The final of the CNVLD, which saw 10 teams from nine provinces compete, was broadcast live by CTN from the Olympic Stadium in Phnom Penh and marked the end of the league’s ninth season.
The national side is third in the world, according to the CNVLD’s Australian Secretary General Christopher Minko and some of the players who took part on Friday were world-ranking sportsmen.
“We are moving towards number one and very determined to be number one,” said Mr Minko, who founded CNVLD in 1996 to rehabilitate those disabled by landmines.
The national team’s hopes are pinned on gold at the upcoming World Cup, which will be held in Phnom Penh this December. The previous cup in 2007 was the first international sports world cup to take place on Cambodian soil. The Cambodian team, coached by the German Christian Zepp, will face the world’s other top teams—Poland, Germany and Slovakia—as well as Laos, India and possibly the US and Canada.
“Volleyball is an ideal game because landmine survivors predominately have below the knee injuries…[and] it assists them to develop their agility,” Mr Minko said of the sport. “Also, at that time [when CNVLD was started] the last remnants of the Khmer Rouge were coming out so we chose to develop a team sport to foster social cohesion,” he said.
Today the national team is made up of 70 percent landmine survivors, although there is also a younger generation of players who, for example, have been injured in motorcycle accidents, according to Mr Minko.
The presence of television cameras on Friday night brought Olympic Stadium temporarily back into the limelight. The stadium was built in 1964 at a time when Cambodia was the regional leader in several sports, including volleyball.
Before Friday’s final match the Eagles captain Chat Samoeurn, 46, said “I’m very happy because I feel we’re going to win.”
Mr Samoeurn lost his leg when rescuing a fellow soldier from a minefield in Poipet in 1991. There are four other ex-soldiers on the Eagles team and a majority of Mr Samoeurn’s players were disabled by landmines. “It [volleyball] is a really good way to bring people together,” Mr Samoeurn said.
The CNVLD league players are no longer seen solely as disabled but have become the pride of their provinces and, to an extent, the entire country.
Pin Sarath, captain of the Scorpions, said that he plays volleyball to improve his health but also to change the image of disabled people. “I want to show I can do as others do…[and] feel like other people,” he said.