Facilities Need Upgrade Before Regional Games

Sovann Narong has faith in his children, and he has faith that sporting greatness will someday come to Cambodia.

The 58-year-old has been associated with the National Olympic Stadium in Phnom Penh on and off since the 1960s.

He worked there until the Khmer Rouge kicked him out of Phnom Penh in 1975, and he re­turned in the 1980s to help reopen and keep up the sports complex where he maintains the lighting.

Pointing to the six children sitting around him on Thursday at his living quarters at the stadium, Sovann Narong said that they, young people, were the future hope of Cambodian sporting ach­ieve­ment. But they need investment and training, he said.

Although Sovann Narong’s children practice swimming at dawn and at dusk in the stadium’s un­derused pool, he confessed that his dream of having them on the Cam­bodian national team is a long shot at best.

“My sons swim about 1,000 meters every day and come back exhausted. We have not enough food to offer them, and there is no sponsorship for sports,” he said.

On Thursday morning, four months after Taiwanese company Yuan Ta finished renovations and turned the Olympic Stadium back over to the government, the only sport being played was by a team of weather-watchers gambling on whether it would rain.

But the government has big plans for the Olympic Stadium—if not the athletes.

Prime Minister Hun Sen has written to the organizers of the South­east Asian Games saying Cambodia will be able to play host to the 2011 SEA Games, National Olym­pic Committee Chairman and Na­tional Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh an­nounced Wednesday.

“The SEA Games in 2011 will be held at the National Olympic Sta­dium,” the Prince said in a speech at the Center for the Devel­op­ment of Cambodia.

“I asked an engineer to check: We found out that the stadium’s foundation is strong, we just need to fix it up a bit,” Prince Ranariddh added.

Prince Ranariddh complained openly of Yuan Ta’s incomplete re­novation on Wednesday.

In 2000, Yuan Ta paid the government $3.6 mil­lion for permission to develop the area surrounding the stadium in return for renovations.

Though strips of new shops and apartments were developed on the Stadium’s perimeter, the stadium it­self, critics say, received little more than a coat of paint.

“I just walked past recently. Wow, a very [bad] smell!” the prince said, adding that Hun Sen has approved a budget to improve the sports sector, but he did not dis­close the amounts involved.

“We will find funds from China to use for renovating an indoor sports arena,” he said. “I will negotiate with China.”

In addition to completing the sta­dium renovation, SEA Games pre­paration will also include a renovated pool at the Royal University of Phnom Penh and an indoor stadium on the city’s outskirts, he ad­-ded.

Ranariddh said that he has asked Defense co-Minister Nhiek Bun Chhay to explain the renovation at the Old Stadium in Russei Keo district.

Though closed to the public with barriers and barbed wire, a guard at the Old Stadium said on Thursday that the as yet undefin­ed renovations to the sports complex will be complete for the SEA Games in 2011.

If the government has plans to host international games and build appropriate venues, it must also make plans to help Cambodian ath­­letes become winners, Sovann Na­rong said.

“[The] SEA Games has unofficially decided to have the games here,” Khmer Amateur Swim­ming Federation head Hem Thon said Thursday.

Pointing to the renovation of the Olympic Stadium, Hem Thon ad­ded: “Corruption is the main prob­lem that makes sports weak here.”

As for the SEA Games and the projected building projects, Hem Thon said: “We would not spend the money if they were not coming here.”


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