When Hem Bunting represented Cambodia at the Southeast Asian Games in December, he proved to be one of the best long-distance runners in the region by winning two medals: a silver for the men’s marathon and a bronze in the 5,000-meters race.
But with the Olympic Games in Beijing approaching, the 23-year-old marathon runner from Stung Treng province, who is to represent Cambodia once again in the men’s marathon, isn’t sure he wants to take part.
“I am not so happy. I am not being taken care of,” Hem Bunting said in an interview at the Olympic Stadium on Thursday.
“They don’t take care of athletes, the equipment is not enough,” Hem Bunting said during a break from training.
The National Olympic Committee of Cambodia has given him one pair of sport shoes and a set of training clothes for his six-month training period ahead of the Beijing games, he said. And because of a lack of suitable training grounds for athletes, Hem Bunting said, he has not been able to complete all the training he had hoped to do.
“The ground is not smooth and when it rains, we can’t train,” Hem Bunting said of the dusty, uneven running track around the soccer pitch at the center of the Olympic Stadium.
“I have not received complete health support and not enough training,” he continued, adding that he doesn’t fear the repercussions of speaking out about the poor preparations for the country’s Olympic Games hopefuls.
“I am not afraid of being removed [from the games], if they want to remove me, remove; I have brought face for them,” he said of his former success while running for Cambodia.
Ahead of the Asian Games in Doha, Qatar, in 2005, Hem Bunting said the National Olympic Committee sponsored him to the tune of $480.
However, two months before the 2008 Olympics, Hem Bunting said that he has not been informed of any financial support from the NOCC for himself or the other three athletes expected to participate.
As a national team athlete, Hem Bunting earns $30 per month, including a meal a day and a place to stay at the stadium—a crowded room where he lives with 20 other national team members.
“Just to buy water [$30] is not enough,” Hem Bunting said of his salary. “I bought the running shoes myself when going to the SEA Games,” he continued.
“My future is not bright. Football is better, more people are interested in it,” he added.
Hem Bunting and his female colleague Sou Titlinda, 19, who will compete in the 100-meter sprint in Beijing, train every day at the stadium from 6 am to 8:30 am.
For Sou Titlinda, her love of athletics keeps her motivated and she hopes to beat her personal record—100 meters in 13.47 seconds, which she recorded at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. But things could be better, Sou Titlinda said.
“Now there are a lot of shortages, especially of training facilities, shoes and clothes,” she said.
“I bought second-hand [sports] clothes in Poipet,” Sou Titlinda said, adding that she didn’t know what support she would get from the government for going to Beijing.
“I often feel upset, but I feel happy as most athletes want to go abroad for training,” she added.
Tourism Minister and NOCC President Thong Khon said Thursday he was not informed that the country’s Olympic Games entrants were so demoralized and wanting for support. He added that he would investigate.
“No one reported it to me,” Thong Khon said.
“But normally we have a policy for them such as sponsoring,” he said.
Thong Khon denied that athletes were being neglected, adding that he did not know what kind of support the two runners and the two swimmers would receive.
He referred further questions to NOCC Secretary-General Meas Sarin who was abroad and could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Interior Ministry Secretary of State Nuth Sa An, deputy president of the NOCC, said Thursday that he too was not aware of the problems and would investigate also.
“If they grumble of the shortages, it should be handled to fulfill their needs,” Nuth Sa An said.