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Thailand, Cambodia brawl over kickboxing event name at SEA Games

By AFP   January 24, 2023 | 10:47 pm PT
Thailand, Cambodia brawl over kickboxing event name at SEA Games
Muay Thai boxer Theppharat S. Noppharat (R) from Thailand strikes his Mexican opponent Juan Gonzales during their fight at Lumpinee Stadium in Bangkok on September 24, 2022. Photo by AFP/Jack Taylor
Thailand will boycott a kickboxing event at the Southeast Asian Games in Cambodia in May, officials said Tuesday, in a row with the hosts over what to call the sport.

Thai officials are angry at plans by Cambodia to refer to the event -- which they regard as their national sport -- on the official program as Kun Khmer instead of Muay Thai.

While the name Muay Thai may be better known around the world, Cambodian officials insist the sport originated from their Khmer culture.

The event is one of a series of combat sports at the 11-country regional Games, alongside regular kickboxing, karate, taekwondo, kun bokator and vovinam.

Cambodia is hosting the Games for the first time in 60 years.

Charoen Wattanasin, vice-chairman of the National Olympic Committee of Thailand, said the International Olympic Committee had not endorsed the term Kun Khmer.

"They are violating international regulations for sports competitions," he told AFP.

"The Thai Boxing Association won't be sending athletes to compete."

Cambodian sports officials are refusing to back down.

"We are the host country so we have the right to change it to Kun Khmer as the sport has its origin in Khmer and it is our culture," Vath Chamroeun, secretary-general of the Cambodian Southeast Asian Games Organising Committee, told AFP.

"We have to satisfy our people."

He said Cambodia would retaliate and not send fighters to Thailand when it hosts the 2025 Games. The sport will be called Muay Thai at that event.

The International Federation of Muay Thai Associations (IFMA) condemned the Cambodian move.

"Kun Khmer is not Muay Thai, like judo is not karate. There might be similarities but Kun Khmer has no recognized federation," IFMA general secretary Stephan Fox told AFP.

Regional rivalry

As the sport's governing body, the IFMA would be responsible for organizing it at the Games, including by providing referees and officials and arranging anti-doping measures.

Fox said the IFMA would not take part in the SEA Games in Cambodia and the federation has written to its members telling them not to go.

In a letter sent last week, the IFMA accused the Cambodian organizers of copying the Muay Thai technical handbook used at the last SEA Games, held in Hanoi last year, and simply changing the name to Kun Khmer.

The two kingdoms have repeatedly clashed over their cultural heritage, with 2011 seeing several months of bloody military conflict over a disputed temple on the border.

Cambodia ultimately won that dispute when the UN's top court ruled in its favour.

Muay Thai secured Olympic recognition as a sport in 2021, but its pathway to the Olympic Games is uncertain because of safety concerns.

It allows some moves that are banned in other forms of kickboxing, such as elbow- and knee-strikes.

 
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