Phnom Penh Governor Chea Sophara took a moment Monday to pay his respects—and some cash—to the national team athletes who gave Cambodia one of its finest athletic showings in decades.
“I support all sporting activity to the best of my abilities,” Chea Sophara said, before handing out 50,000 riel each to the 76 athletes and 30,000 riel and 50 kg of rice each to the 17 coaches who gathered Monday at Municipal Hall.
The group recently returned from the Southeast Asian games in Kuala Lumpur, where Cambodia won one gold medal, a silver, and five bronze medals—one of its best showings internationally since the 1960s.
“Our sports used to be prosperous, but then the atmosphere of the country was not good, and we did not have enough time to develop our sports,” the Chea Sophara said.
Roeun Sarath, 22, a bronze-medal winning boxer originally from Battambang province, said he was proud to be a member of the team, and proud at his rapid rise. “I am very proud that I got a medal for Cambodia this year,” he said.
Roeun Sarath said he just started learning to box in 1998, and within five months he was selected to compete in Thailand, where he “won nothing.” In the 1999 SEA games in Brunei, he also came home empty-handed.
There he might have gone further, but the referee stopped and ruled him down during the second round of his semi-final match.
“I don’t know why he stopped me. I was very surprised,” he said.
The boxer said he expected Cambodia to continue to improve, as long as the country’s athletes continue to get help from the government.
“If the government and Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports take care enough to train as well as give athletes a per diem, next year Cambodian sports will be even better than this year,” he said.