Published on 16 Apr 2012 Sections ,

London Paralympics: where is Cambodia?

With thousands of disabled athletes across Cambodia, the nation should be a powerhouse of talent for London’s Paralympic Games. So why are they on the sidelines? Channel 4 News explores.

It is billed as the greatest and most prestigious chance to showcase the world’s finest, most talented disabled athletes in a competition reknowned for prowess and meritocracy.

But the Paralympic Games are increasingly being seen as an event which will sideline poorer nations who have the talent, the drive and the ambition, but not the kit.

Cambodia is one such nation. With an impressive history of overcoming the dictatorial, blood-thirsty regime of Pol Pot, surviving the debris of war including landmines and gun battles, and with little in the way of wealth, the nation clearly possesses the stamina required to compete against the odds.

But sheer talent, ambition and dedication are not enough to see the Cambodians through. “The Paralympic games are a great event,” volleyball team organiser, Chris Minko, told Channel 4 News. “They do showcase the ability of people of people with disabilities around the world. But they cost an enormous amount of money. The blunt reality is that for nations like Cambodia, we’ve got nothing. The athletes are starving.”

Van Vun specialises in the 100m. Despite not having a proper place to train, he’s kept at it, against all the odds, beginning his training without any gloves. “It was very painful, my hands bled everywhere,” he said.

Last year he won two silver medals at a regional meet. His success followed a second-hand light weight racing chair cast off by the Australians.

As a result, “difference in time over 100 metres is about 30 seconds,” he said.

At a government workshop, technicians build no-frills prosthetics for the many people who require them. But they are clearly of a far poorer variety compared with their European, American and Australian cousins.

“It’s so goddam frustrating,” Minko said, “not to be able to participate in London and actually go for that goal. That would be a genuine goal achieve by our sporting ability, and not by our ability to purchase $20,000 hi tech wheelchairs.”

Organisers of the London Paralympics said they were working with countries to make the event more inclusive. Craig Spence, of the International Paralympic Committee, said: “What we try to do is develop them as members so they can raise funds themselves and develop sport in their countries. The IPC cannot be responsible for developing sport in 160 countries.”