In the wake of a tragic crowd stampede that killed 125 football fans at Kanjuruhan Stadium in the Indonesian landlocked city of Malang on October 1, Prime Minister Hun Sen called on all countries in Asia to do more to encourage sportsmanship on the pitch to avoid future tragedies.
Speaking at the 41st Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) General Assembly meeting in Phnom Penh on October 4, Hun Sen said that although the 45 countries in Asia are relatively weaker in sports compared to some other continents, they all should instead focus on sportsmanship and on jointly strengthening this issue to avoid recurrences.
While addressing OCA acting president Raja Randhir Singh and 336 delegates from the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Hun Sen spoke about his ambition to see an improved sporting landscape in Asia.
“During my meeting with [Singh], I said to him that sports in our Asian region should be reviewed to see why we are still weak,” he said.
Raising football as one example, he said that just China and India combined have nearly three billion people of the perhaps seven to eight billion on Earth.
“If you add ASEAN’s roughly 700,000,000 people to that, you’ve got around half of the planet’s total population, but sadly even the semi-finals of the World Cup are rarely reached by a national team from the Asian continent,” he said.
“This year, we are proud that Asia will host the World Cup in Qatar and we hope that we will see good results from these games, but we must study and find out why we are weak in sports compared to some other continents. If we compare ourselves to Europe, South America or North America, we are much weaker than them overall,” he added.
Along with his recommendation to look into ways to make Asia’s sports landscape more competitive internationally, Hun Sen requested that all countries in the region strengthen their crowd safety measures and sportsmanship at all sporting events to prevent any more terrible incidents like the recent crowd deaths.
“We have seen tragedy happened recently in Indonesia when violence broke out and then the crowd stampeded leading to many deaths. Such incidents have also taken place in Europe and on other continents. Therefore, it is very necessary that we enhance our ethical framework and sportsmanship level for these games. The rules of game should never be violated using violent acts just to win the game,” he said.
The stampede at the match between Indonesia’s top flight Arema FC and Persebaya Surabaya on October 1 killed at least 125 people, 32 of them children, and injured 323 others, according to media reports.
“Although our continent may presently be weaker in sports, we must not be weak in sportsmanship or in our management of sporting events,” he reiterated.
As the Kingdom prepares to host the 2023 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games next year, Hun Sen thanked the OCA for meeting this year in Cambodia. He said that these early meetings would teach some lessons to Cambodia on event preparation.
The premier instructed the Cambodian SEA Games Organising Committee (CAMSOC) to increase its cooperation with OCA and other relevant stakeholders, including cooperation on training and improving the technical aspects of performances by Cambodian athletes to ready them for future competitions at international events.
He also called on all delegates who attended the OCA meeting to support Cambodia and help the Kingdom to successfully host the 2023 SEA Games and ASEAN Para Games.
Speaking at the meeting, OCA’s Singh said that it was an opportunity for all countries in the region to improve their game organisation and cooperation efforts within the region and around the world.
“We are committed to working harder and working together to make this a good environment for athletes and matches,” he said.