Kun Khmer fighters hope to equal kickboxers, despite impartial judging panel concerns

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Cambodian kickboxer Beut Sangkheum lands a kick on Malaysian Sea Wei Sheng in their semi-final bout, ahead of going on to claim gold. CAMSOC

The Cambodian national boxing team will begin competing in their respective weight categories at the 31st Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) on May 18. Four boxers have already booked places in the semi-finals via bye berths, meaning they are guaranteed to return to the Kingdom with at least bronze.

The leaders of the Khmer Boxing Federation expect more than bronze from their team, saying that at least one gold should be within their grasp. The team brought home gold at the 2017 Malaysian SEA Games. They also had one eye on the Cambodian kickboxing teams’ performance at the current games. The kickboxers have just completed their campaign, winning one gold medal through Touch Rachhan, better known as Beut Sangkheum, as well as three silver and one bronze.

Huot Sengtry, vice-president of the federation who is alongside his team in Vietnam, said: “This year, our national team has been training hard. We trained really hard in Cambodia and arrived in Vietnam early on May 14 to acclimatise ourselves with the weather and the environment. We hope to make history and claim more medals, like our kickboxing brothers.”

“We do not know for sure how many medals we will get, but we will give it our absolute all,” added the head of the Khmer boxing national delegation.

Through the draw of the “Muay” event at the games, five Kun Khmer boxers were all fortunate to be automatically given places in the semi-finals.

Thanks to the results of the draw, it is guaranteed that the five already have bronze medals in their hands. However, the opponents they have to face in the semi-finals are mostly Thai fighters. Vy Srey Chhay, Tuon Srey Pin and Sam Samnang will meet Thai boxers, while Rom Samnang will clash with a boxer from host nation Vietnam. Mey Sing will square off against his Malaysian counterpart.

In the first matches of May 18, however, Cha Chandeng will face Thai Kullanat Aonok in the under-48kg category, while Sok Rith will meet Vietnam’s Huynh Hoang Phi in the under-54kg, then Khun Bora will battle Malaysian Kabilan Jelevan in the under-60kg division.

In the May 19 qualifying matches scheduled for fighters from Cambodia, Van Voeun drew a Vietnamese opponent and Pov Phearith will fight a boxer from the Philippines.

The matchups against Thai and Vietnamese boxers have left fans worried about the judging, as they suspect favouritism may be shown to Thailand, where Muay originated. In the past, they have often claimed a visable bias towards Thailand and Vietnam, especially the host nation.

“I have attended meetings between the team leaders from all participating countries and the International Muay Thai Technical Committee of the International Muay Thai Federation. The federation is not governed by the Thai governing body but the British, with some technical officers from other countries. Cambodia also has two referees who will participate as international judges in this competition,” said Sengtry.

However, the Cambodian federation vice-president remains concerned about the judges, adding: “There are multi-national officials involved in organising the games and we do not know whether they will be biased or give any advantage to the hosts. We cannot conclude in advance, but from what the Muay committee has told me, I don’t think it will happen like it did in kickboxing.”