Knockout! Kun Khmer replaces ‘Muay’ for Phnom Penh Games

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Vath Chamroeun, secretary-general of the Cambodian SEA Games Organising Committee (CAMSOC). CAMBODIA 2023

Cambodia has decided to officially remove the word Muay from the programme of the 32nd Southeast Asian (SEA) Games 2023 in May. “Kun Khmer” will instead be used to represent the Southeast Asian sport of kickboxing, in accordance with the wishes of the Cambodian people.

Vath Chamroeun, secretary-general of both the Cambodian SEA Games Organising Committee (CAMSOC) and the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia (NOCC), told The Post that the official decision was in line with public opinion. Officials have already written to the Olympic committees of the participating nations to inform them of the decision.

“We have told the committees that we will replace the term ‘Muay Thai’ with ‘Kun Khmer’ when we host the games. We do not care what anyone thinks, we have made it clear that, as hosts, we will use Kun Khmer,” he said.

Prior to the decision, CAMSOC toyed with idea of referring to it as “Kun Khmer (Muay)”. According to the SEA Games Charter, all countries hosting the biennial multi-sports event should use the word Muay to represent kickboxing.

The initial consideration of the “Kun Khmer (Muay)” phrase sparked criticism from Khmer boxing fans. They asked for the word Muay to be removed immediately given that the word originates from “Muay Thai”.

Both Cambodian and Thai fans claim that their respective ancestors were the originators of the fighting style, with Cambodian supporters claiming that Muay Thai originated from traditional Khmer martial arts, and Thailand claiming that Kun Khmer was copied from Muay Thai.

“We have taken the position that using Kun Khmer will avoid confusion. As the cultural owners of the martial art, and as hosts, we have worked hard to fulfill our desire to use the phrase at the games,” said Chamroeun.

Kickboxing received widespread support when it was first debuted at the 2007 SEA Games in Thailand. Laos, the Philippines, Myanmar, Singapore and Indonesia, as well as the hosts, all competed.

It has since featured at many games, in many countries. Cambodia first entered in 2017, with Khim Dima claiming a gold medal. His teammates brought home a silver and two bronzes.

In their second appearance in 2019, the Kingdom’s fighters were not able to match the success of their debut, returning home with three bronze medals. At the delayed 31st SEA Games 2021 – held in Vietnam last year after Indonesia transferred its hosting rights due to the Covid-19 pandemic – Cambodian boxers claimed a gold and six bronzes.

For the upcoming games, the Cambodian Boxing Federation will independently define the rules and regulations of the event.

The federation has already prepared its judges and referees for the event – in collaboration with international officials.

Cambodian officials said the decision to refer to the sport exclusively as Kun Khmer will encourage greater public support for the games from the Kingdom’s citizens.

“We believe this will motivate people to join CAMSOC – and the government – in making sure the games will be a success. Ensuring successful games, like the name of Kun Khmer, is a matter of honour and respect for the Kingdom,” added Chamroeun.