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Muay Thai or Kun Khmer? Cambodia, Thailand spar over sport’s name ahead of 2023 SEA Games

muay thai kun khmer
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    Thailand has threatened a boycott of the upcoming 2023 Southeast Asian Games after Cambodia announced that the games will use the name “Kun Khmer” instead of “Muay Thai.”

    Vath Chamroeun, secretary-general of the Cambodian SEA Games Organising Committee (CAMSOC) and the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia, announced the decision last week, explaining that the name choice was a matter of public opinion.

    We have told the committees that we will replace the term ‘Muay Thai’ with ‘Kun Khmer’ [for the sporting event] 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,” Chamroeun told The Phnom Penh Post.

    Even before reaching the decision, CAMSOC was already considering using Kun Khmer at the 2023 SEA Games, which will be hosted at Phnom Pehn, Cambodia, and will run from May 5 to May 17.

    Cambodia and Thailand have been debating the origins of the Southeast Asian kickboxing sport for years now, with fans from both countries accusing each other of copying the martial art from one another.

    In his recent statement, Chamroeun reiterated that the kickboxing sport originated in Cambodia.

    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.

    Thailand reacted strongly to the announcement and said its national team will boycott the 2023 SEA Games in response.

    The association will not send athletes to compete. We have spoken with the Olympic Committee of Thailand and they concur. We will not send athletes to Cambodia,” said International Federation of Muaythai Associations (IFMA) President Sakchye Tapsuwan, according to The Phnom Penh Post, citing an interview with Thai PBS Sport on Saturday.

    Besides the boycott threat, Sakchye also warned other countries of a fine and a ban from future IFMA events if they participate.

    The IFMA has sent a letter to the countries of the ASEAN region, warning them that if they opt to participate, they will not be allowed to participate at the IFMA’s sporting events, especially the upcoming Asian Indoor Games.

    Regardless of Thailand’s response, Chamroeun expressed confidence in the decision and declared that “Kun Khmer will remain an event at the 32nd SEA Games.”

    According to the rules, if there are four or more participating countries, it is eligible for the games. So far, Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Laos, Myanmar and Malaysia are planning to enter, so we don’t care if one nation decides not to take part.

    Chamroeun also said that Cambodia will not be sending its kickboxing athletes when its neighboring Southeast Asian country hosts the 33rd SEA Games in 2025.

    If Thailand includes Muay Thai in the 2025 SEA Games, we will not participate. They decided to boycott us over the name, so we will respond in kind. I am sure that many other countries will participate. We remain united in the development of Kun Khmer and Muay Thai in the form of friendly matches, no matter what.


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