Why box over a name?
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Why box over a name?

With preparations for the 32nd Southeast Asian Games -- which are to take place in Phnom Penh in the next few months -- underway, questions have arisen over a martial arts event that is a great source of pride for both Thailand and Cambodia.

Thailand has made this martial art globally famous, calling it "Muay Thai," while Cambodia prefers its own term for the sport, "Kun Khmer."

Accordingly, Cambodia has taken the opportunity, as this year's SEA Games host, to call the event Kun Khmer, claiming it has gained enough support from fellow member countries to do so.

Vath Chamroeun, secretary-general of the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia, said it was the Cambodian panel's right to opt for the name "Kun Khmer.''

The Cambodian media quoted him as saying that should Thailand, which will host the 33rd SEA Games in 2025, revert back to calling the event Muay Thai, Cambodia will stage a walk-out. Such antagonism is concerning.

It should be noted that the abrupt change of name is a departure from an initial agreement whereby Cambodia said it might use the term Kun Khmer, as wished, with Muay in brackets.

The International Federation of Muaythai Associations (IFMA) questioned the need for the name change if Kun Khmer uses the same or almost the same rules as Muay Thai.

While withdrawing Thai boxers from the games, the IFMA also threatened to ban its members from competing in any future Kun Khmer events. The IFMA should realise by now that such a quick, not-well-thought-through reaction is useless.

Changing the name of the event in such a manner is unprecedented. Claims by Vath about host privilege are also dubious as SEA Games rules merely allow a host country to add a sport of its choosing to the Games, not change the name of an existing sport.

Choosing a sport is to give the host a better chance of bagging medals since the host will likely pick a sport the country is good at.

For this reason, Cambodia chose Kun Lbokator, a martial art, which last year won Unesco recognition on its intangible cultural heritage list. Some observers noted the forthcoming Games are to have the highest number of medals up for grabs.

Now the bickering has escalated, with daily spats among social media users who are not hesitant to use ultra-nationalist slurs.

This has happened before, such as the heated debate over Khon vs Lakhon Khol masked performances in recent years.

Such arguments stem from an obsession with the narrow-minded idea of ownership, as held by some art and culture people. Yet such an idea is pointless. Art and culture are to be shared and cherished together.

Competition is normal and can be accepted as long as it is pursued in a constructive way, with each country trying to ensure excellence.

No one, nor country, can really own culture.

The same applies to the upcoming SEA Games. Instead of wasting time hurling insults and bickering, people should focus on the principle of sportsmanship -- the ultimate goal of the games and competition in the first place.

It would benefit the sport if both sides respect each other and wake up to the fact there is no place for ultra-nationalism in art or sports. The 32nd SEA Games in Phnom Penh are no exception.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th

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