Why Cambodia is making the SEA Games free

By Xuan Binh   April 24, 2023 | 06:09 pm PT
Why Cambodia is making the SEA Games free
The Morodok Techo National Sports Complex in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where most of the sports in SEA Games 32 will take place. Photo by Reuters
This year's SEA Games will be free as host country Cambodia is planning to pay for every aspect of the event by itself, along with a little help.

The Cambodian government announced on April 18 that they would cover all the expenses for all participating nations in the SEA Games 32. This includes transportation, accommodation and meals.

Prime Minister Hun Sen made the decision just a few months after announcing that entrance to all events would be free for everyone. He announced that broadcasting rights for the events would be free as well.

This makes Cambodia the first host in SEA Games history to cover all expenses for participating countries.

And this comes despite the fact that the country has one of the lowest GDPs in Southeast Asia, above only Laos, Timor Leste and Brunei.

"We do this so that other countries can understand the sincerity of Khmer people," Hun Sen said during a speech in Phnom Penh on Monday, as cited by Khmer Times.

Cambodia’s Ministry of Economy and Finance announced in January that these measures may bring the total cost of hosting SEA Games 32 to $200 million.

The price of building the event’s new Morodok Techo National Sports Complex in Phnom Penh will account for a whopping $160 million of that total. When completed, Morodok Techo Stadium will be the second largest in Southeast Asia, behind only Bukit Jalil of Malaysia. It will be nearly double the size of Vietnam’s My Dinh Stadium.

According to the World Bank, Cambodia’s GDP in 2021 is $27 billion. That means their budget for the SEA Games 32 accounts for 0.74% of that figure. This ratio is 53 times higher than Vietnam, which spent $51 million to host SEA Games 31 last year, equal to 0.014% of their GDP.

Cambodia is willing to spend big to host SEA Games 32 because they want to develop a proper national sports complex. In June 2018, general secretary of the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia Vath Chamroeun stressed the importance of the new Morodok Techo National Sports Complex. He said that the construction of the project was not only good for the development of sports in Cambodia, but could also help attract international tourists to Cambodia.

Another reason for the big spending is that Cambodia has a major partner in its SEA Games venture - China.

Channel News Asia reported that China covered the full $160 million cost of building Morodok Techo as part of their plan to expand investment and soft power in Southeast Asia. China has also lent Cambodia billions of dollars in recent years, and the northern giant is also Cambodia’s biggest trading partner.

In a statement earlier this week, PM Hun Sen said: "We don't need money from ticket sales or any advertising in Cambodia. What we need right now is the world to know about Cambodia."

The people of Southeast Asia have largely voiced support for his decision.

Facebook user Evrin from Indonesia commented: "This is a great decision. Cambodia is trying to take SEA Games to the next level. Good luck."

Account Ming Sinh from Cambodia commented: "We are trying to organize the SEA Games in the best way, although there are people who laughed at PM Hun Sen's decision. We want to show you how kind and big-hearted Cambodians are."

"This showed Cambodia's economic potential and foresight in hosting the SEA Games. This will attract international investment and tourists to Cambodia after the event," user Luong Tan from Vietnam commented.

Some people have voiced concerns that hosting the SEA Games like that would negatively affect Cambodia’s economy. Nonetheless, Hun Sen's decision was welcomed by the participating countries in SEA Games, and most analysts feel the Games will benefit by reaching larger audiences in the region.

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