TV Viewers Treated to Cockfighting ‘Slasher Cup’

The Cambodian Slasher Cup 2006, the country’s first-ever televised cockfighting tournament, played out the drama of its quarterfinal stage in Takeo province on Saturday.

Armed with 5 cm and 6 cm spurs strapped to their legs, four fighting cocks laid four others low in the fifth annual championship cup at an arena in the province’s Bati district.

“A national hero,” was how Seng Savorn, a tournament organizer, described the rooster that will win the final champions bout on Aug 5.

“We respect the roosters’ rights,” said Seng Savorn, who is also press director at the Council of Ministers. “We don’t allow injured roosters to compete and the loser will be taken out [of the ring],” to save it from certain death, he said.

Deputy Prime Minister and Cabinet Minister Sok An provided the space for the arena at his Takeo province residence because he has a keen interest in the sport, Seng Savorn said.

“He likes watching cockfighting. He relaxes from politics by watching cockfighting,” he said.

At the bouts on Saturday, Sok An was seated in the front row.

Since January, more than 40 cockfighting teams from across Cambodia, each with at least 30 roosters, have spent their Saturdays in the district’s Putsar commune, competing to be Cambodia’s 2006 cockfighting champion, according to Oum Someth, who also helped organize the event. Om Someth said that Sok An likes to watch cockfighting because he doesn’t play golf.

“Some of the winners have died and some of the losers, too,” he said. However, he could not recall how many roosters had fallen since the tournament began.

The first-place cockfighting team will receive a new Toyota Camry, said Oum Someth, while the second and third place runners-up will both get motorbikes. The team in fourth place wins a $1,000 cash prize.

Gambling is not permitted at the tournament, but there has been betting nonetheless, Oum Someth said, adding that cock owners were allowed to bet $200 on each bout, but that was allowed so that they could cover their costs for participating.

“If we didn’t allow [teams] to bet they wouldn’t participate in the competition because the would lose both their money and their roosters,” he said.

At Saturday’s Slasher Cup fights, the well-to-do spectators could be seen lifting fingers to indicate the amounts of their bets, with each finger apparently signaling $100 bets.

Since the tournament was held at only one location, it would not spread the habit of betting on cockfighting among the public, Om Someth said.

“Cockfighting is only one day of the week,” he said. “We don’t promote betting.”

In 2004, Sok An introduced a draft law to regulate cockfighting but the National Assembly has sent it back to the Council of Ministers where it is still being drafted, he said.

Sok An said he was too busy to speak to a reporter when contacted by telephone on Tuesday.

Although CTN broadcast the event nationwide on Saturday evening, media access was still strictly limited.

One reporter who tried to photograph the event had his camera and tape recorder confiscated by security guards, who questioned him about his presence for 20 minutes before asking him to leave.

Seng Savorn returned the camera and tape recorder to the reporter at the Council of Ministers on Monday afternoon after all photographs of the event had been deleted.

Ma Serey, who commentated for CTN on several of the bird fights, which re-broadcast late on Saturday night, acknowledged that opinions are divided on blood sports.

“Audiences who view cockfighting in a negative way think it is bad because it seems like animal torture, but other audiences think it promotes the sport,” he said.

Promoting cockfighting will encourage people to raise the male of the species for the sport rather than chickens for consumption, he said.

“We want to raise people’s standard of living because a fighting cock is worth between $1,000 and $3,000,” Ma Serey said.

Chuch Phoeung, secretary of state at the Ministry of Culture, said he was a fan of the sport.

“We would like to revitalize this very old tradition,” he said, adding that November’s World Expo in Siem Reap would include a display of cockfighting.

In Cambodia, cockfighting dates from the Angkorian era and is depicted on the southern face of the Bayon Temple, he said. He too added that the sport didn’t necessarily encourage gambling.

“The farmer and the peasant, before sunset they play this kind of cockfight and then they drink palm wine,” he said.

Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Yim Sovann was less impressed. Gambling leads to poverty, he said, adding that Council of Ministers staff could spend their time more productively.

“I think Mr Sok An should spend more time to push the anti-corruption law…into implementation as soon as possible,” he said.

Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said cockfighting is synonymous with gambling in the public mind and associating with the sport is “not a good image for the government.”

Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said that as a Buddhist he was personally opposed to cockfighting.

“I’m a Buddhist. I’m against all violence,” he said. “I would join the organization to be against any mistreatment of animals. I don’t even go fishing.”

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