Phnom Penh, Ministries Dominate as Games Draw to a Close

In contrast to last week’s dramatic curtain raiser for the first National Games, the events on Friday afternoon at Phnom Penh’s Olympic Stadium were low-key affairs, with only about 100 scattered people watching Pailin comfortably beat Kompong Speu in the women’s football finals.

Underway for a week, the games have been dominated by Phnom Penh, which has picked up 90 med­­als, including 36 golds. Athletes com­peting under the banner of the ministries of interior and de­fense, which selected players from around the country, followed with 53 and 48 medals, re­spective­ly. Kandal was the top province on Friday with 60 med­als, 12 of which were gold.

A footballer playing for Pailin, left, dribbles against Kompong Speu in the National Games' women's football finals at Phnom Penh's Olympic Stadium on Friday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
A footballer playing for Pailin, left, dribbles against Kompong Speu in the National Games’ women’s football finals at Phnom Penh’s Olympic Stadium on Friday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

One of five provinces to have picked up no medals until Friday was Pailin. However, Chhonran Kim­leang, 19, speaking during the halftime intermission of the football finals—up 2-0 against the sim­ilarly medal-less Kompong Speu—said she was determined to change that.

“We feel very excited because we’ve never played on a really comfortable field like this before. We’re used to playing on a bumpy field,” Ms. Kimleang said.

Although they represented the tiny western province, all of the players actually hailed from neighboring Battambang, Ms. Kimleang said. They were representing Pai­lin because there weren’t enough women footballers in the former Khmer Rouge stronghold.

“So we just asked them and they allowed us to play here,” she said, adding that the team was full of play­­­ers from SALT Academy, founded by Phnom Penh Crown FC coach Sam Schweingruber.

The games were started this year to develop athletes and prac­tice hosting large sporting events ahead of the 2023 SEA Games, due to be held in Cambodia for the first time. The games will conclude with a closing ceremony on Saturday, set to be an­other high-budget spectacle at Olympic Stadium presided over by Prime Min­ister Hun Sen.

Vath Chamroeun, secretary-general of the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia, said he hoped the games, in which more than 2,000 athletes from across the country have participated, would result in a boost of talent ahead of the next games in 2018.

He added the government was going to aim for a “bigger” opening ceremony following last week’s success (apart from a paratrooper infamously missing the field and landing in the packed stands).

Ms. Kimleang, whose team went on to take gold with a 5-0 win, said she hoped the games could also help empower Cambodian women through sport.

“These games give opportunities to all the girls in Cambodia to play football and all types of sports here,” she said.

“We can show that girls in Cambodia can play football, have rights the same as the boys and we have enough ability to succeed in a competition like this.”

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