Chuoy Kim Horn jumped and smacked the volleyball over the net. His opponents reacted too slowly and the ball hit the court and bounced away as the captain of Cambodia’s national “standing men’s” volleyball team landed triumphant.
Watching him play, one would never guess that Chuoy Kim Horn is a land mine survivor and that he, like many of the other players practicing at the Kien Klaeng National Rehabilitation Center on Thursday morning, uses a prosthetic leg to play.
The team played in the 2000 Paralympics Games. And to push their cause to play again, they are sending prosthetic legs to Germany to protest an International Paralympic Committee decision to drop standing men’s disabled volleyball from the 2008 Beijing Paralympics.
The Cambodian team has sent nine prosthetic legs so far, and they plan to send another 15 within the next month.
“If [the IPC] still value[s] disabled people, they will listen to our request,” Chuoy Kim Horn said. “Even though we are disabled, we can play at the international level.”
Standing men’s volleyball was originally introduced to the Paralympics in 1976 but removed following the 2000 Sydney Paralympics and questions regarding the numbers of nations who could meet the IPC’s criteria for entry.
Chris Minko, secretary-general of the Cambodian National Volleyball League (Disabled), said the IPC has a number of criteria for including a sport in the Paralympics: There must be teams from four regions, there must be a World Cup and national competitions and there must be 18 teams.
The sticking point for inclusion in the Beijing Paralympics is that the IPC has not recognized there are 18 teams because Rwanda, Ethiopia and Nepal are still developing their programs, Minko said.
“We acknowledged that and asked for the IPC’s understanding,” Minko said, adding there is confidence those three countries will have full-fledged programs by 2008.
However, on April 11 the IPC announced that rowing will be included in the Beijing Paralympics, a move Minko described as “elitist” and “ignoring the international demographic of disabilities.”
IPC Chief Executive Officer Xavier Gonzalez wrote in an email to teams across the world on April 14 that there were not enough teams to be included.
“Volleyball standing does not meet these minimum eligibility requirements at this point in time,” he continued, “and for that reason, it was considered non-eligible by the IPC governing board.”
Chuoy Kim Horn, who played in the 2000 Paralympics, said the players were “disappointed and hurt” by the decision.
The Cambodian team is currently ranked 6th in the world.
The same week the IPC made its decision in April, the first prosthetic legs—nine in total—were mailed to Germany and the team announced it would be sending more. National teams from other countries have started letter-writing campaigns, Minko said.
The team hopes that the IPC will change its mind at a conference in November, though the odds are stacked against them as the IPC has never reversed such a decision.
Chuoy Kim Horn said sending the prosthetic legs—which are all old and aren’t being used—sends a powerful message to the IPC.
“They would not throw the legs out because they belong to landmine victims,” he said. “There is still hope.”
Minko said a second box of about 15 legs will be sent within the next month and a supporter of the volleyball team’s cause in Germany is sending the IPC headquarters one of the legs each week.
An IPC spokeswoman, in an email Thursday, refuted claims the sporting body is leaning towards elitism by replacing volleyball with rowing.
“The IPC is committed to developing sport for persons with a disability in all countries and at all levels across the world,” she wrote.
She said the prosthetic legs are being collected so they can be returned to Cambodia.
She also said the deadline for applying to be included in the 2008 Paralympics has passed.
“The IPC recognizes the efforts made by the Volleyball Standing Committee in popularizing the sport and looks forward to having the opportunity to consider it again in the future,” the spokeswoman added.
Minko said that despite the IPC’s decision, Cambodia’s standing men’s volleyball program, which has 165 players across the country, won’t be affected.
“We just thought we could go for gold [in Beijing],” he said.