Sending kickboxers to SEA Games ‘will threaten Muay Thai Olympic bid’


Six countries will not join the kickboxing competition at this year’s Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, the International Federation of Muaythai Associations (IFMA) said on Thursday.

Controversy was sparked when this year’s SEA Games host Cambodia announced kickboxing would be referred to by its local name, “Kun Khmer”, rather than Muay Thai. The 2023 SEA Games will run from May 5 to 17.

IFMA chairman Sakchai Thapsuwan said Thailand cannot send athletes to the competition as the country does not have Kun Khmer sports associations.

He also said Kun Khmer had not met World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) international standards.

"We cannot send our Muay Thai athletes to join the competition," he said, adding that the National Olympic Committee of Thailand has also confirmed that no Thai athletes will compete in Kun Khmer.

Sending kickboxers to SEA Games ‘will threaten Muay Thai Olympic bid’

Thailand is among six IFMA member-countries that have been warned not to send athletes to the SEA Games Kun Khmer, along with Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia and Singapore, Sakchai said.

"Any country members that send athletes to join the competition will be banned from participating in IFMA competitions or activities for two years.”

Sakchai Thapsuwan

He added that non-member countries are free to send their kickboxing athletes, and at least four countries must participate to make the competition viable.

Brunei and Timor-Leste have no kickboxing associations while Myanmar, Laos and host Cambodia are not IFMA members, according to Sakchai.

"However, it is clear that IFMA six country members will not participate in the Kun Khmer competition," he said.

The IFMA's move was not aimed at defaming Kun Khmer, he added.

Stephan Fox

Echoing Sakchai, IFMA general secretary Stephan Fox said the association did not want to become an enemy of the Kun Khmer community.

He said Kun Khmer is a recognised martial art, like Muay Thai, judo, karate and taekwondo, but has not yet been certified by sports associations such as WADA and the Alliance of Independent Recognised Members of Sport.

"IFMA country members have been warned not to send athletes to join the Kun Khmer contest, due to issues around prohibited substances, fair judging and athletes' safety," he said, adding that the move is not a boycott.

He said the decision aims to prevent athletes from being banned by international sports organisations in the future, and was also essential to promote Muay Thai’s inclusion in the Olympic Games.

Sending kickboxers to SEA Games ‘will threaten Muay Thai Olympic bid’

Host Cambodia has announced that 19 gold medals will be available in different categories of the Kun Khmer competition.

It added that six countries have joined as members of the Kun Khmer International Federation – Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar and Vietnam.

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