Prime Minister Hun Sen has agreed to construct a new privately funded national stadium and sports complex to replace Olympic Stadium as the country’s premier sporting facility, National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh announced on Wednesday.
“Prime Minister Hun Sen has [already] found a location to build a new national stadium and Borei Keila,” a housing complex for athletes, he told reporters outside the Assembly.
Prince Ranariddh, who was recently promoted to president of the National Olympic Committee by Hun Sen, did not disclose the location of the new complex, nor the cost involved to complete the project.
But, the Prince said: “We do not use the national budget. We have private investors.”
Prince Ranariddh said the new stadium was necessary because the centrally located Olympic Stadium was of insufficient size to accommodate Cambodia’s plans to host the 2011 Southeast Asia Games.
“I have to encourage [the athletes] because we are the host country,” the Prince said.
Prince Ranariddh did not say what would happen to the Olympic Stadium.
Once the architectural and recreational heart of Phnom Penh, Olympic Stadium recently underwent superficial renovations by a Taiwanese-based company that in return was given government permission to privately develop and sell coveted real estate surrounding the stadium on Sihanouk and Charles de Gaulle boulevards.
In 2000, the Taiwan-based Yuanta Group paid the government $3.6 million for the rights to the stadium land, while it took nearly four years for the company to complete its renovation of the sports facility.
Shops and apartments have popped up around the sports complex, while the original Borei Keila land, which has long been home to a large community of informal settlers, has been handed over to property firm Phanimex Co Ltd for development.
Inaugurated in 1964 by then-prince Norodom Sihanouk and designed by famed architect Vann Molyvann, the Olympic Stadium remains one of the only public recreation spaces in Phnom Penh where joggers and footballers escape the city’s dust and traffic.
Municipal Deputy Governor Mam Bun Neang said Wednesday that the historic site will not be destroyed.
Instead, once the new stadium is built, the old facilities will continue to be used to train athletes.
Contrary to Prince Ranariddh’s account, however, Mam Bun Neang said the city is still conducting a study to find a site for the new stadium and has not yet found a location.
But, he said: “The new location is somewhere near Phnom Penh.”
Further details about the new stadium and the fate of the historic Olympic Stadium were scarce on Wednesday.
Hun Sen’s advisor Om Yentieng said he knew nothing about the plans.
Pok Than, secretary-general for the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, which is in charge of Olympic Stadium, did not answer repeated calls for comment Wednesday.
Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said he could not answer questions as he was busy in a meeting.
National Olympic Committee Secretary-General Meas Sarin echoed Prince Ranariddh’s comments on Wednesday, saying the old stadium does not have enough facilities to host the 2011 SEA Games.
“We need at least four more stadiums to host the SEA Games,” he said, adding that stadiums should also be built in Kandal province, Kompong Speu province and Takeo province.