It was the right decision, but the fact it took so long to make, and was seemingly only made after all of the alternatives had been exhausted, shows something about the state of affairs in Cambodian politics. On March 30, Prime Minister Hun Sen announced through his Telegram channel (now his preferred means of communicating directly with the public) that broadcasting and tickets for the Southeast Asian Games next month and the ASEAN Para Games the month after will be free.
One wishes Cambodia all the best with the Games, the first time it will host them. But given the fact that this announcement came in the final days of March, less than five weeks before the start of the events on May 5, it’s clear that they were never intended to be free. Vietnam held the last iteration of the Games in 2021 and charged a symbolic $10,000 for live broadcasting rights. Reports suggest that Cambodia’s organizers were trying to charge Thailand around $800,000 for this year’s live broadcasts, so one presumes it was a similar price for other Southeast Asian countries. Thai media reported that “Thai sports authorities have indicated that they might not want to pay what they described as the excessive fee Cambodia planned to charge.”
In mid-March, the Cambodia SEA Games Organizing Committee (CAMSOC) took to Facebook to assert that it had sold around 50 percent of broadcasting rights for the SEA Games and Para Games. CAMSOC’s general secretary, Vath Chomroeun, a former wrestler, expanded on this to say that the rights had been sold to the national broadcasters of Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore. (Note that he only mentioned at the time that Timor-Leste, the region’s poorest country, would get free broadcasting rights.) Certainly on the broadcast rights issue, it appears CAMSOC had wanted to charge over the odds but was forced to roll back after it found it couldn’t.