Football no longer ‘rudderless’

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General Sao Sokha meets with the men’s and women’s national football teams before their departure to Vietnam for the 31st SEA Games in May. FFC

General Sao Sokha, National Military Police commander and president of the Football Federation of Cambodia (FFC), compared the state of football in Cambodia in the early 2000s to a rudderless boat. Sports, like so many other cultural activities, were all but eradicated by the Khmer Rouge genocidal regime.

Back in 2006, the federation under Sokha’s leadership began to draft rules and form partnerships to renew the development of football in the Kingdom. Thanks to their efforts, football – by far the most popular sport in the country – has gone on to play a significant role in building society.

Sokha recalled that before the civil war, Cambodian football built a strong reputation at both the Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) and Asian Games. That all ended from 1975 to 1979 when not just football, but nearly every aspect of a modern society, was destroyed by the Democratic Kampuchea regime under Pol Pot.

“When the football federation was resumed in 2006, football in Cambodia was like a rudderless boat, drifting. Sometimes it was active and games were scheduled, sometimes it was not. There were no rules governing football and no formal competitions. Most importantly, there were no strategies in place to develop the game,” he said.

“However, since then, the FFC has fixed the rules and regulations of football in the Kingdom, and the development of Cambodian football has been tremendous. Fortunately, the federation has received consistent support from Metfone,” he said, referring to Vietnam-owned mobile operator Viettel (Cambodia) Pte Ltd.

“They have helped us to advance the cause of the sport we love,” he added.

This summary of the game’s development was delivered by the general at the June 23 signing ceremony of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the FFC-run Cambodian Premier League and Metfone.

The telecommunications provider has pledged to gift the federation $1.5 million over the next three years.

During the ceremony, Sokha explained that football plays an important diplomatic role in promoting the Kingdom on the international stage and has brought many other benefits to society.

He said that besides reducing dropout rates at schools, football reduces drug use among the youth. The general also believed that it had contributed to a reduction in traffic accidents and helped to raise awareness of infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS and Covid-19. Through football, many fans had been taught the importance of keeping the environment clean, he added.

“Football has built friendships and solidarity among Cambodians, regardless of political affiliation, race, religion or colour. Not only that, football has contributed to building a Cambodian society that is growing day by day.

“Cambodia is known as a country rich in tourist sites, especially ancient temples, and through football, we attract even more visitors. Some of them will invest here, creating jobs and [increasing] people’s incomes. This will help our economy to grow,” he said.

“These are just some of the positive contributions that football has made to the nation. I hope Cambodian football continues to attract fans,” he concluded.

The Cambodian SEA Games Organising Committee (CAMSOC) has highlighted football as one of the most important sports in next year’s games, and is counting on it to encourage the Khmer people to become interested in the games and support them.

Vath Chamroeun, CAMSOC secretary-general, told The Post: “We are preparing to host the 32nd SEA Games for the first time in history. Football will be an important driver in attracting a large number of spectators to the event. If our national team makes the football finals, that would be a dream and would ensure a perfect event.”