Chairman of the Cambodian International Taekwondo Federation (ITF) Keo Remy expressed his disappointment at the withdrawal of the North Korean-style martial art from the 32nd SEA Games in 2023 in Cambodia.

Speaking at the closing ceremony of the ITF Taekwondo competition in the 3rd National Games at the Morodok Techo National Stadium last week, he said: “It is very unfortunate for Cambodia that one of the sports where it has the most potential was withdrawn from the Southeast Asian Sports Council’s final category in early October, and that this news has not been widely publicized.”

Remy regretted that the efforts of ITF Cambodia and the Cambodian 32th SEA Games Organizing Committee (CAMSOC) had put into getting the sport into the SEA Games for the first time for more than three years, had gone unrewarded.

“Time, stability and peace are very important for our sport to be recognised on the international stage and we were ready to host next year’s SEA Games. Unfortunately, we are unable to take part. Please remember that not participating does not mean that we are weak, but that we are too strong,” he said.

“ITF-style Taekwondo fighters are famous for winning gold medals at both the ASEAN-Asia level and the World Championships,” he added.

Prime Minister Hun Sen was one of the strongest supporters of ITF’s inclusion in the 32nd SEA Games 2023. He believed that the inclusion of North Korean ITF and South Korean World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) would serve to unify the Korean Peninsula.

“We nominated both the ITF of North Korea and the South Korean WTF as part of efforts to for the two Koreas to to move towards national reunification,” he said, in January.

He added that the inclusion of both sports in the 32nd SEA Games was in line with the intention of South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who was trying to reach a compromise agreement between the two Koreas before ending his mandate.

“In the journey to reach this agreement, it should be us, outsiders, who want to see a peaceful Korean peninsula support these two sports together. If one is selected and the other is not, it displays a discriminatory nature,” said Hun Sen.

However, the prime minister’s attempt to mediate between South and North Korea through the medium of sport remains impossible as tension between the two countries’ flared up again.