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For Cambodia, No Olympic Marathoner in the Running

Japanese entertainer Neko Hiroshi, left, poses with Cambodian winner Em Buntin after a half marathon Saturday, June 18, 2011 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The Japanese finished second. More than 1,000 Cambodians and foreigners took part in the running, celebra

Controversy is looming in Cambodia over the government's choice of Olympic marathoner, a Japanese-born comedian with Cambodian citizenship.

The International Association of Athletics Federation said this week that the comedian, Takizaki Kuniaki, would not be considered eligible because he has not been a Cambodian citizen long enough. But Cambodia’s fastest marathoner, Hem Bunting, is not being considered either.

Hem Bunting, who has beaten Takizaki in the past, told VOA Khmer recently he believes the choice to nominate a foreign-born marathoner in the Olympics reflected poorly on the nation.

“People will ask why the outsider who runs more slowly than a Khmer was selected instead of the best runner,” he said. “This is not good.”

Hem Bunting’s best time is 2 hours and 23 minutes, seven minutes faster than Takizaki, who is nicknamed Hiroshi Cat. Hem Bunting competed in the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and won a bronze in the Southeast Asia Games in Laos in 2009. He also beat Takizaki in the 2012 Angkor Wat Half Marathon. He said he is happy Takizaki wants to compete for Cambodia, but added: “You should continue to train and defeat Cambodian athletes first if you want to go and represent Cambodia.”

Takizaki will not be eligible to compete for Cambodia in the Olympics until October 2012, the IAAF said. But Vath Chamreoun, secretary-general of the National Olympic Committee, told VOA Khmer that Hem Bunting has disciplinary problems and will not be considered either.

“He left his uniforms at home when he was the flag-bearer at an opening ceremony,” Vath Chamreoun said. “And he has many other problems. We are sorry for his character, behavior and his disobedience.”

He also said Takizaki was not selected because of his sponsorship of some sporting events in Cambodia but because he is the second-fastest runner in Cambodia, after Hem Bunting.

Hem Bunting left the national team last year, after complaining of poor training conditions, demanding health insurance for athletes, and ultimately falling out with the national athletic federation.

“Athletes must be brave and honest, so that we can develop in our sports,” he said. “If we see something lacking, we say so. If we see it is sufficient, we say that. We call a spade a spade.”