The finest ping-pong players in the region will come together in Olympic Stadium’s taekwondo center in Phnom Penh for the next five days as the 9th SEA Table Tennis Championships starts on Saturday.
The competition, which was last held in Vientiene, Laos, in 2012, will see five Cambodian male players going up against competitors from Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.
Rat Sokhorn, president of the Cambodia Table Tennis Federation, said outside the opening ceremony at the Tonle Bassac II Restaurant that the tournament is an opportunity to begin to revive a sport that saw its heyday in the country during the 1960s.
“In the past, 30 years ago, we were very strong in this sport, we even won gold medals,” said Mr. Sokhorn, who himself represented the national side in the 1980s.
Speaking of Cambodia’s chances this year, Mr. Sokhorn said the odds are stacked against Cambodia due to the strength of the other nations, particularly Singapore due to “importing their players from China.”
But he admitted that some among the Cambodian contingent also have foreign roots.
“Every person that stays in this country has a nationality so we have three players prepared. They are good players for Cambodia but their original country is Korea,” he said.
“You know in sport, you have Nigerians they play for Japan or Singapore,” Mr. Sokhorn said. “But let’s talk about the standard of the players, we don’t need to dig too deep about that.”
In an effort to boost the chances of picking up future medals, talented table tennis players will be flown abroad for training, he said.
“We are sending all of our players to China and Korea for more training,” Mr. Sokhorn said.
Thailand coach Korakij Sermkijseree said that Cambodian table tennis would only improve with better organization and dedicated overseers of the sport.
“In Thailand, we have table tennis tables in schools from the ages of 8,” he said. “If Cambodia wants to improve, it needs somebody who loves the game to oversee this,” he said.
Vath Chamroeun, secretary general of the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia, said the event will cost $100,000 and echoed Mr. Sokhorn’s hopes for a table tennis renaissance.
“This is the first event held by the Table Tennis Federation…and is designed to measure our athletes abilities and to gain experience in order to be ready for the 2015 SEA Games in Singapore,” he said.