Sodden Stadium a Bitter Reminder of Unfinished Business

Completed in 1964 as a symbol of Cambodian progress since independence and of optimism for the future, Phnom Penh’s Olympic Stadium turned into a derisory spectacle Saturday when its centerpiece football pitch sank beneath the rain.

As Chinese Macau fell 2-3 to Nepal in a regional qualifier, laughs emerged from among the approximately 2,000 spectators who watched as players sloshing down the field tried to lob the ball over gigantic puddles on the pitch. In the parking lot outside, water came up to spectators’ ankles.

“It was flooded,” said National Olympic Committee Secretary-General Meas Sarin, who watched Saturday’s match at the stadium. “It was because of the hands of Yuanta,” he said.

Eight years ago today, the government tasked the Taiwanese firm Yuanta Group with renovating the sports stadium, including its drainage system. In return, the firm was controversially allowed to build on land surrounding the stadium, which some say was a key part of the sport’s grounds natural flood system.

Yuanta announced in 2002 that its $3.6 million renovations had been completed. But officials have repeatedly complained since then that the work was not done.

In 2004, Cambodia canceled plans to host the 2004 Tiger Cup football tournament because Yuanta’s repairs had not been completed.

Duong Meas Chamroeun, deputy director of the Education Ministry’s youth and sports department, said Tuesday that drains at the stadium are more than 50 years old and can become overwhelmed after only 30 minutes of rain.

Prime Minister Hun Sen in January 2007 announced the creation of an inter-ministerial committee to investigate the renovation contract.

Education Ministry Secretary of State Bun Sok said Wednesday that a lawsuit against the company had been filed at Phnom Penh Municipal Court. A court clerk was unable to provide details.

Bun Sok, who is not a committee member, said he was unfamiliar with any findings by the committee but said its task was sizable and continuing. The flooding is a unanimous complaint, he said.

“It doesn’t only affect the stadium. It also affects the areas around Phsar O’Russei,” he said.

Calls to the company’s listed Phnom Penh numbers Wednes­day did not reach Yuanta Group.

“This officially shows that corruption in Cambodia has eaten deep through the bone,” SRP lawmaker Son Chhay said. “The flooding is evidence of a government conspiracy with the company which produced cakes without any flour.”

Land given to the company as part of the Olympic Stadium deal could now be worth as much as $400 million, he said.

NRP spokesman Muth Chann­tha insisted Wednesday that former National Olympic Committee President Norodom Ranariddh could not be held responsible for the Yuanta contract.

“For the Norodom Ranariddh Party, this cannot be accepted because the Yuanta contract was illegal and drafted secretly without any bidding,” he said.

In the final qualifying match of the Asian Football Confederation’s Challenge Cup on Wednesday, an eliminated Cambodia delivered a domineering performance at Olympic Stadium, defeating Chi­nese Macau 3-1 with goals from forward Nuth Sinuon in the 30th minute, Chan Rithy in the 67th minute and another in stoppage time from Nuth Sinuon.

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