ASEAN member states consider the 32nd Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) to be hosted by Cambodia in 2023 as the bloc’s most significant sporting and tourism event post-pandemic, according to Minister of Tourism Thong Khon.
Khon – who also serves as president of the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia (NOCC) and permanent vice-president of the Cambodian SEA Games Organising Committee (CAMSOC) – was speaking at a June 23 press conference on the biennial multi-sport event and Para Games for disabled athletes.
"[We] must not underestimate its potential significance … The work of making the games a success involves not just Cambodia as the host country but also the whole of ASEAN, which is striving to make the Kingdom's SEA Games the best they can possibly be," he said.
Khon also addressed Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith, who was in attendance at the conference at Morodok Techo National Stadium in Phnom Penh, suggesting that Cambodia must use its time in the spotlight to upgrade the country’s image in the region and promote ASEAN tourism to the Kingdom.
"CAMSOC president Samdech Sena Pichey Tea Banh asked me to relay a message to you personally. He … requests that you help promote SEA Games because it is very important that we do so and we have only a relatively short time remaining," Khon said, using the royal title of Minister of National Defence Tea Banh.
Khon urged all media outlets to highlight the four key goals for the preparations for the 2023 event – peaceful living through sports; lifelong participation in sports; cleaning up the Kingdom's environment; and reducing the number of traffic accidents and rate of drug use.
"The SEA Games are an opportunity for all of use to make Cambodia more beautiful and hospitable. We're hosting the games not just to give the 600 million people in ASEAN member states something exciting to watch, but also because this event will attract attention from millions of other people around the world.
"This will allow them to see what Cambodia is like today and get to know us further, which will give us a chance to increase the Kingdom's popularity and gain added recognition for the friendly smiles of our people," he said.
Kanharith said he understood the gravity of the situation and would make certain that all media outlets in Cambodia put appropriate focus on the event to make the SEA Games a success.
He noted that for much of the modern era, Cambodia has chiefly been known for two things, and first being Angkor Wat and Cambodia's other ancient temples and the second being the genocidal regime of Pol Pot.
"Now with the SEA Games we can change a lot of people's perceptions about Cambodia. As I said before, when our athletes win, it means the whole nation wins.
"If we win a gold medal, right away there will be people in other countries who will note that their country might have 70 million or 80 million people but they couldn't find anyone to beat us when there are only 16 million Khmer. It would give us pride and make others respect us and become interested in knowing more about our country," he said.
The information minister concluded the press conference by stressing the importance of the media's full participation in promoting the SEA Games over the next year and requested the help of the assembled journalists to do so.
"Firstly, you will have contributed to the development of Cambodian sport and your country. Secondly, it will help open doors for our youths and show them the path to success and all the possibilities life has for them.
"We should all take pride in hosting the SEA Games, because we have been waiting 64 years for our chance to do so, but most importantly we will help our youths by enabling them to see how we are connected to the wider world, and as members of the press you can really contribute to that," he concluded.