Cambodia is hosting the 2023 SEA Games and has caused an international incident by changing the name of Muay Thai to Kun Khmer. As hosts they have the right to do this but the Thailand team has made it clear it will not participate.
Thailand has also made it clear that any countries which do send a team to compete could be banned from participating in Muay Thai tournaments in future. But CAMSOC secretary-general Vath Chamroeun said the decision would not be changed,
Even if the Thai sporting federation takes issue with our decision and threatens to boycott, 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.
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The IFMA is the governing body for the sport of Muay Thai. It received this recognition after the WMC and IFMA unified with the IFMA and is officially recognized by the International Olympic Committee.
The IFMA plans to take stringent action against any countries that compete in the Kun Khmer event at the 2023 SEA Games. They could be fined and banned according to Sakchye Tapsuwan.
The president of the IFMA told PBS Sport that,
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. 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.
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Clash of cultures
The two sports are basically identical but while Muay Thai is globally recognized Kun Khmer is completely unknown outside of Cambodia. The latter was completely banned by the Khmer Rouge during the 1970s halting generations of knowledge and expertise.
When the sport made its debut at the 2005 SEA Games the Cambodians refused to send a team in protest at the use of the name Muay Thai. These efforts to prevent Thailand laying claim to the sport go back several decades.
At an ASEAN meeting in 1995 Cambodia tried to get the name Muay Thai changed to either ‘Sovannaphum Boxing’ or ‘SEA Boxing’ in order to reflect the fact that it had roots in Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar as well as Thailand. This attempt was unsuccessful and the sport has gone on to become widely recognized in the western world.
It has become a political issue. Vath Chamroeun, secretary-general of the Cambodian Southeast Asian Games Organizing Committee, told AFP that,
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. We have to satisfy our people.