This week, the City of Lowell’s Mayor Sokhary Chau will travel to Cambodia with a delegation in support of the USA Cambodia Sports Association (UCSA) and their participation in the Southeast Asian Games (SEA GAMES) representing Cambodia. The purpose of this trip is to build sports diplomacy and relationships for Khmer youth, both in the United States and internationally.
Mayor Chau is the UCSA Board Chair and has participated in this trip since 2017. He remarks, “I believe in sports diplomacy. Sports have a positive impact on young people, leading to good health—both mental and physical; successful attitudes toward education and professional careers; and a chance to learn perseverance and leadership skills.”
The UCSA is dedicated to recruiting Khmer youth to compete in the SEA Games representing Cambodia. The organization seeks to foster cooperation, respect and understanding between American and Cambodian youth through sports diplomacy and organized sports. UCSA actively recruits the best of the best in Khmer sports in three types of tournaments: men’s basketball 3 vs. 3 and 5 vs. 5; women’s basketball 3 vs. 3; and women’s beach volleyball.
The SEA Games 2023 marks the first time a Cambodian women’s beach volleyball team will travel from the United States to play in Cambodia. The athletes from the United States are college-educated professionals who volunteered to join the team.
The team is comprised of both the United States athletes and Cambodian athletes competing together to represent Cambodia on the world stage as one cohesive Cambodian National team.
Lowell’s own Nancy Pin is one of the athletes on the team. Pin graduated from UMass Lowell, where she majored in nursing. She currently works as a registered nurse in critical care. Pin played volleyball in high school and college, and was named Most Valuable Player of her high school team in 2018.
The SEA Games is a biannual multi-sport event with competitors hailing from the current 11 countries of Southeast Asia: Brunei, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, Timor-Leste, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. The SEA Games are under regulation of the Southeast Asian Games Federation, with supervision by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Olympic Council of Asia. In order to participate, athletes must be entered by their National Olympic Committee.
The UCSA team is an excellent way for Cambodian-American athletes born in the United States foster a connection to culture in Cambodia. Many of the athletes are born to Cambodian immigrants, parents who fled the country decades ago. This program allows a connection between families and community and provides the framework for relationship-building.
Youth in Cambodia are faced with many challenges, particularly poverty, as they live in rural areas. The pride and joy of UCSA is the opportunity to showcase female athleticism. Beach volleyball is a novelty in Cambodia, as beach culture is not prominent. Women in Cambodia are not typically encouraged to pursue sports, as Cambodian culture is more reserved and traditional. The presence of Cambodian-American women athletes provides a vital opportunity for young Khmer women to witness strong, female role models competing at an international level. “It is inspiring and exciting,” adds Chau. “I truly believe the youth in Cambodia feel lifted and encouraged by their Cambodian-American counterparts.”
The full UCSA delegation is comprised of the athletes and board members, and will attend the SEA Games in Phnom Penh from May 3 to May 16. The delegation will return to Lowell when the games are complete, and will continue to join local meetings remotely throughout the trip as technology allows.