Friday, July 17, 2015

Women and sport in Cambodia

Waiting for the ferry to Phnom Penh across the Tonle Sap River

Cambodia’s history overshadows its present so much it is almost a surprise to discover sport and games but they’re there.

Walking through the capital city Phnom Penh at twilight all you have to do is follow the shouts and you will find everything from volleyball or table tennis to football. And cycling of course – everyone cycles at least until they can afford a moto (motorbike).

Blogger Moire O’ Sullivan posted on mountain-bike racing in Cambodia when she lived there.

DragonFruit and other healthy eating
The first signs of activity start even earlier at sunrise when older ladies gather with some very loud boom-boom music down by the Tonle Sap River for aerobics. Another group comes together in the evenings at Independence Square – I posted some pictures on Wednesday.

An all-male volley-ball session I watched in a large shed-like building in the city centre was fast and loud. So was a table-tennis session around the corner with about 10 men having at it.

The National Olympic Stadium was near-empty when I visited, just a few boys bouncing basketballs and no-one on the giant football pitch.

Down by the river again in the evening a group of small boys ran barefoot with a football along the walkway, and later a more well-off group came armed with rollerblades.

National Olympic Stadium

According to VOA Cambodia the lack of girls is not unusual:

“The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport estimates that of 259 competitive Cambodian athletes across 20 sports, only 54 are women. (In petanque, 11 of 22 athletes are women.) There are none in boxing, volley ball, football, badminton, cycling or archery.

‘That may be because many women think sports are mostly for men’, said Vath Chamroeun, general secretary of the National Olympic Committee.

‘They think that playing sports provides no benefit,’ he said. ‘Muscles appear in the long term, making them shy and stop playing more.’”

But one man told me with quiet pride about his 12-year old daughter who has represented her school in Tae Kwon Do at national level. He said she hopes to compete at the SEA Games (SouthEast Asian Games). He didn’t see anything wrong with it, and just hoped she wouldn’t be too disappointed if she can’t compete with athletes from richer nations like Vietnam.

Unfortunately I didn’t get to see any Muay Khmer – the national sport of kickboxing. From what I hear women are slowly making their way over the ropes in this most macho of sports. A great photo-essay on one gym with female fighters at RoadsandKingdoms here.

What sports have you noticed on your travels? 

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