Cambodian Generosity: Reputation over Revenue in the 2023 Southeast Asian Games

The delegation from the host Cambodia parades during the opening ceremony of the 32nd Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) at the Morodok Techo National Stadium in Phnom Penh on May 5, 2023. (Photo: AFP)

Cambodia hosting the 32nd Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) represents a noteworthy achievement for the nation, symbolising its debut as the host of this esteemed regional sports competition after 64 years of waiting.

However, organising a large-scale event of this magnitude could pose numerous opportunities and challenges for the country, requiring a delicate balance between preserving a positive image and capitalising on potential economic gains.

This historic event could enhance Cambodia's global standing by highlighting its progress, advancement, and welcoming nature to the international community. Accordingly, the Cambodian government waived participation fees for all countries involved and offered complimentary event tickets. This decision affirms the prioritisation of reputation over financial gain that Cambodia may have otherwise accrued from the event.

The Southeast Asian Games serve as a unique platform for athletes in the region and offer a chance for nations to showcase their cultural and economic prowess. For Cambodia, the opportunity to host this event presents a platform to showcase its advancements since the tragic Khmer Rouge regime and its ongoing endeavours towards the reconstruction and growth of the country.

The decision to offer complimentary tickets and waive participation fees presents numerous potential advantages for Cambodia. Through this action, the nation showcases its dedication to cultivating regional partnerships and advancing the principles of fair play in athletics. In addition, the event's relocation enhances its accessibility, promoting inclusivity and encouraging individuals from diverse backgrounds to participate and interact with the games.

This commentary will analyse the factors prioritising Cambodia's reputation over the future financial benefits of hosting the 2023 Southeast Asian Games.

Improving Cambodia's Global Reputation

Cambodia's decision to offer the event free of charge conveys a special message of generosity and hospitality to its attendees. This decision will enhance the nation's reputation on the global platform by demonstrating its dedication to promoting inclusiveness and transparency. The decision made by Cambodia is expected to draw attention from the international community, potentially leading to favourable media coverage and improved relations with other countries.

The country's slogan,"Small Country with a Big Heart," aptly encapsulates the essence of the country and its populace. Cambodia, a country located in Southeast Asia, has encountered various obstacles throughout its history. However, its populace's fortitude, amiability, and cordiality have consistently been evident. This slogan encapsulates Cambodia's essence of solidarity and perseverance, highlighting its resilience to overcome challenges and extend hospitality to global tourists.

Hosting the 2022 SEA Games allowed Cambodia to exhibit its organisational capabilities in successfully executing a large-scale event, despite its limited resources and size, showcasing its generous spirit. This event provided an opportunity for the nation to showcase its advancements and growth, promote its diverse cultural legacy, and cultivate a spirit of camaraderie among the nations involved. Cambodia has strengthened its image as a friendly and accommodating host, reinforcing the essence of its slogan, "Small Country with a Big Heart."

Attracting tourists and investors

The decision to offer free admission to the 2023 Southeast Asian Games has the potential to yield long-term economic advantages. The event's global exposure has the potential to generate a surge in tourism and attract potential investors to the country. With the influx of visitors arriving to attend the games, they will have the opportunity to experience Cambodia's diverse culture and rich historical heritage. This experience can potentially incentivise their return as tourists or prospective investors, thereby contributing to the growth of the country's economy.

Nurturing regional relationships

Cambodia promotes stronger relationships with Southeast Asian neighbours by waiving fees and providing complimentary tickets. The essence of the Southeast Asian Games is focused on fostering collaboration, comprehension, and solidarity among the nearby nations. The decision made by Cambodia showcases its dedication towards these principles and its aspiration to enhance the connections among the countries involved.

Promoting Sportsmanship and Encouraging Athlete Participation

The lack of fees and provision of complimentary tickets may result in a rise in athlete involvement in the games. To illustrate, an article published by the Economist highlights that Cambodia is about to host arguably the world’s biggest sporting event with an unprecedented 581 medals. In addition, athletes from developing countries may exhibit a greater propensity to participate in competitions, given their exemption from the financial obligations of entry fees. The enhanced level of participation will ultimately result in a more competitive and captivating event, highlighting the skills of the athletes in the region.

Potential long-term advantages for reputation

While Cambodia may choose to forgo immediate financial gains from ticket sales and participation fees, the long-term benefits to the country's reputation are priceless. The government's investment in this event aims to establish a foundation for potential future opportunities, focusing on economic and diplomatic benefits. In addition, hosting a successful and inclusive event in Cambodia will likely enhance its global recognition and positive image, resulting in increased invitations to host similar events, heightened investment attraction, and a boost in tourism.

Ki Manghout is a master student in international relations at Griffith University, Australia

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