SEA Games told to choose either ‘Muay Thai’ or ‘Kun Khmer’


One of the most controversial issues regarding this year’s Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Phnom Penh is the host country’s announcement that kickboxing will be named "Kun Khmer".

All references to "Muay Thai" have been removed from the kickboxing schedule from May 5-17.

Instead, the popular sport will be referred to by its Khmer name and will follow Cambodian rules and regulations.

This means Kun Khmer will not be using the same rules and regulations as Muay Thai, which were recognised by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in July 2021.

The IOC also stipulated that all official tournaments of Muay Thai must be supervised by the International Federation of Muaythai Associations (IFMA).

Cambodia’s announcement has sparked a backlash in Thailand. The Amateur Muaythai Association of Thailand (AMTAT) announced that it would not send athletes to compete in kickboxing at this year’s SEA Games unless the host switched to using Muay Thai rules under IFMA supervision.

To explore the issue, Nation Thailand spoke with Sakchye Tapsuwan, president of both the IFMA and AMTAT, regarding the latter’s decision to boycott the SEA Games in Cambodia, and the role of IFMA at the international level.

SEA Games told to choose either ‘Muay Thai’ or ‘Kun Khmer’

Despite the plethora of Muay Thai associations, only the AMTAT has been recognised by the Sports Authority of Thailand. Why?

Thailand is the birthplace of Muay Thai. This fact has made the country the top destination among kickboxing athletes worldwide who seek authentic training in Muay Thai. As a result, there are over a thousand Muay Thai gyms and several Muay Thai associations across Thailand. However, only the Amateur Muaythai Association of Thailand (AMTAT) has been approved by the Sports Authority of Thailand (SAT), which allowed it to add "of Thailand" to its name.

Sakchye explained:

"Thai law stipulates that each sport can have only one association to represent the country. Although there are many Muay Thai associations in Thailand, only the AMTAT can send Thai athletes to compete at international tournaments in the name of Thailand. These tournaments include the World Games and SEA Games."

SEA Games told to choose either ‘Muay Thai’ or ‘Kun Khmer’

Sakchye said he had chaired the AMTAT for over 20 years and helped push Thailand to become a member of the IFMA, which now has 148 member countries.

He explained:

"After I retired from the position of SAT governor in 2000, I worked with the AMTAT and have been coordinating with the IMFA since until Muay Thai, the IMFA and AMTAT were officially recognised by the IOC in 2021. Getting the IOC’s approval is not an easy task, and it took us over 10 years to be at the top of the waiting list to be included in the Olympic Games. This international recognition proves that Muay Thai is a globally popular sport."

Sakchye Tapsuwan, president of both the IFMA and AMTAT

Why Cambodia is "wrong"

Sakchye insisted that Cambodia’s decision to change the name from "Muay Thai" to "Kun Khmer" and to host the sport without supervision of an international governing body is "wrong" and "cannot be done".

Sakchye explained:

"In hosting any international sport event, the organiser must coordinate with the international authority responsible for that sport, such as Fifa for football, Aiba (Association Internationale de Boxe Amateur) for boxing, and IFMA for Muay Thai. Furthermore, the organiser must follow the rules and regulations of the respective authority. This is an internationally accepted practice."

Hosting a Muay Thai event anywhere in the world must be done under IFMA’s supervision, as the ICO has recognised it as the governing body of Muay Thai since July 2021, Sakchye added.

SEA Games told to choose either ‘Muay Thai’ or ‘Kun Khmer’

Cambodia must play by the rulse in naming a sport in SEA Games

"Muay Thai is the name of the sport that has been approved by the ICO. If Cambodia were to use ‘Muay’ or ‘Thai Boxing’, we would have no problem as they still carry the same meaning," said Sakchye. "However, it is not acceptable to change the name entirely to Kun Khmer, not to mention changing of rules and not coordinating with IFMA in hosting the sport."

Sakchye added that Cambodia had earlier discussed with Thailand to name the sport Kun Khmer Muay, but later cut the last part in the technical handbook for athletes, prompting the AMTAT to decide not to send athletes to the game.

"After Cambodia’s announcement of a new name, the IFMA has alerted all 148 members that sending athletes to an event not sponsored by IFMA will result in punishment. This is the same practice used by other international sport organisations such as Fifa."

SEA Games told to choose either ‘Muay Thai’ or ‘Kun Khmer’

Will Muay Thai change its name to gain international acceptance?

"Many people believe that Muay Thai could be more popular with a different name. But to me, Muay Thai will always be Muay Thai, as that is the name officially recognised by the IOC. This is the first undisputed fact."

"Secondly, Muay Thai is a cultural heritage of Thailand, therefore, we must not change the name for whatever purpose."

Sakchye added that the name-change of Thailand’s "Takraw" to "Sepak Takraw" was a different case. The sport shares its origin with other countries, and using a new name would promote cooperation, he explained.

"Muay Thai is unique. It is a part of Thai tradition. Before every match of Muay Thai there must be a ‘Wai Kru’ [guru worshiping] ritual with traditional Thai music played in the background. This was demonstrated in the Muay Thai tournament at Birmingham 2022 World Games, where three orchestra bands from Thailand were invited to participate."

SEA Games told to choose either ‘Muay Thai’ or ‘Kun Khmer’

Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar do not recognise "Muay Thai"

Sakchye said there are only three countries that refuse to recognise Muay Thai as a sport: Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar.

"Frankly, I don’t care what they think, since the IFMA, which has 148 countries, already officially recognises Muay Thai," he said, adding that more than 20 other countries are waiting to join.

"If these three countries won’t join IFMA, then they clearly don’t think of the future of their athletes. This is a shame as there are many excellent kickboxers from these countries."


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