Cambodia hosted the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games for the first time in 64 years, expressing confidence that the biennial multi-sport event would give a boost to the tourism industry in the post-COVID-19 pandemic era.
Cambodian Prime Minister Samdech Techo Hun Sen presided over the opening ceremony of the 32nd edition of the SEA Games on Friday evening at the 60,000-seater Morodok Techo National Stadium in Phnom Penh.
With the motto of “Sport: Live in Peace”, the games brought together a total of 10,890 athletes, coaches, arbitrators, and delegates from the 10 member states – Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor-Leste and Vietnam.
The two-hour opening ceremony included a sound and light show featuring the history of Cambodia, the parade of athletes, athlete’s and arbitrator’s oath, speeches, games torch lighting ceremony, and fireworks.
In his brief remarks to the event, Hun Sen said sports live in peace and that peace is for all, and all is for peace.
“On behalf of His Majesty the King of Cambodia, the royal government and myself, I declare the 32nd SEA Games open from now on,” Hun Sen announced.
According to the Cambodia SEA Games Organizing Committee (CAMSOC), the games will see athletes competing in 579 events across 36 sports, including football, athletics, gymnastics, swimming, badminton, and golf, as well as two Cambodian ancient martial arts, namely Kun Bokator and Kun Khmer.
Running until May 17, the games are free for all as Cambodia covers the expenses of food and accommodation for all foreign athletes, coaches and delegates, provides free tickets for all spectators, and grants free live broadcast rights to local and foreign TV networks.
Cambodian Tourism Minister and CAMSOC Permanent Vice-Chairman Thong Khon said the moves were “unprecedented” in the history of SEA Games and would benefit the kingdom’s economy for the long term.
“The games will not only promote sports, but also boost Cambodia’s tourism in the post-COVID-19 pandemic era,” he said in a pre-games press conference.
He expected that Cambodia will attract more than four million international tourists after receiving some 1.2 million foreign visitors in the first quarter of this year.
Khon, who is also president of the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia, was confident that Cambodia will gain multiple medals in the games because about 40 percent of the country’s athletes had been sent to train and compete abroad ahead of the games.
Cambodia won nine gold, 13 silver and 41 bronze medals in the 31st SEA Games in Vietnam.
Cambodian Defense Minister and CAMSOC Chairman Gen. Tea Banh said the kingdom planned to spend 118 million U.S. dollars for hosting the games, saying that the figure did not include the cost of the China-aided Morodok Techo National Stadium.
“This regional multi-sport event will raise Cambodia’s profile on the regional and international arenas, and it will also be a great opportunity to show our peace, culture, civilization, tourism, and socioeconomic development to the world,” he said.
Gen. Banh, who is also a deputy prime minister, extended his gratitude to China for strongly supporting the kingdom’s hosting of the games.
“On behalf of the Cambodian government and the CAMSOC, I’d like to thank the Chinese government for supporting Cambodia in training our coaches, athletes, and technical officials for organizing opening and closing ceremonies of the SEA Games and ASEAN Para Games 2023,” he said.
In September last year, Cambodia dispatched the largest-ever team of 160 athletes to train in China in preparation for the games.
“This is another fruit of the ironclad friendship and close cooperation between Cambodia and China,” said Vath Chamroeun, secretary general of the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia.