In their Kun Khmer title bout this month, Moeun Mekhea rammed Khim Bora onto the floor of the ring, knocking his opposite unconscious.
It was a move more reminiscent of wrestling than anything that would be allowed under the traditional kickboxing code, and spectators cried foul.
But the referee and judging panel issued no decision on the day, and instead postponed awarding the championship belt until a rematch.
A social media uproar ensued, with hundreds of people commenting on the perceived foul play. Prime Minister Hun Sen also stepped in.
“Being unable to stand it, I would like to come out and speak as a Cambodian citizen who loves sports,” Hun Sen wrote in a Facebook message on July 11, the day after the match.
He criticized the postponement of declaring a champion, saying Mekhea had clearly violated the rules of Kun Khmer. A clear penalty had gone unpunished, he said.
“Do we have to strengthen the refereeing of boxing, or create a new rule?”
The following day, Cambodia’s National Olympic Committee issued a warning against the Kun Khmer Federation, demanding action from the federation and saying its national standing could be taken away.
On July 12, following the criticism, the Kun Khmer Federation called Bora the winner and awarded him the championship belt and prize money of $5,000.
For the federation, however, the controversy has not ended.
On July 16, it blamed the head of the judging panel, Meas Sokry, and referee Ream Kosal for “mistakes,” and suspended them for six and four weeks, respectively.
This week, Sokry decried the punishment, saying it was unfairly tarnishing his reputation. The sport works together and singling him out for blame was a way to evade responsibility, he said in an interview.
“There really was a mistake,” Sokry said. However, “this program is smooth because we work together. No one does it on their own. We do it together as a system. If it is wrong, we all are wrong together. Don’t put the blame on anyone. It’s not good.”
Sokry, who owns the Chrey Sen Chey Boxing Club in Kampong Speu province, said he just wanted justice to maintain the honor that he had worked hard to build for nearly 40 years in Khmer martial arts for himself and his family.
“When making a decision together, everyone has to take the blame,” he said.
However, Mel Kado, the secretary-general of the Kun Khmer Federation, said the decision to penalize Sokry and Kosal was correct.
Wrongdoers are always dissatisfied by punishment and refuse to admit their mistakes, Kado said.
“It’s like in class at school, when the teacher blames us … we get angry with the teacher for only beating up on us alone. Later on, we realize that it was our fault,” Kado said. “After all, we are all the same. We find it very difficult to accept something that is bad. To be blamed is very difficult to accept, but when we are praised, we are happy. Most of our people have this nature. When someone blames us, we find it difficult to accept.”
(Translated and edited from the original article on VOD Khmer)