Cairde Khmer Ladies are hoping to make the long trip to Derry!

Cairde Khmer GAA club began life in 2017 in the tropical climes of Cambodia, Southeast Asia. Its first ladies team came to fruition at the same time, through the work and guidance of Cork native Jennifer Ryan. In that same year, Jennifer quickly set about constructing a full squad, and with players hailing from the club branches in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, Cairde Khmer ladies competed for the very first time in the sweltering surroundings of Bangkok, Thailand at the Asian Gaelic Games performing admirably by reaching the second round.

From here the sport started to attract the attentions of local Cambodian women. One of the first in the door was in Siem Reap, a woman by the name of Chhav Soeun. Heart of gold off the field, a strict enforcer on it, Souen has flourished. From being the first in her village to take up organized sport, she is now the leader of the Siem Reap branch which she runs with a group of her close friends and fellow players, providing Gaelic football to young disadvantaged youths from both her village and beyond.

Organized sport for women, especially team sports, is very much in its infancy in the Kingdom of Wonder. There is a strong culture that revolves around family, and traditionally, women were seen to be focused on this, rather than outside pastimes or sports. For women to be taking up a pastime that’s a sport from an unheard of country on the opposite side of the world was a huge step. To put into context, Cambodia only competed under FIFA in the women’s game for the first time in 2018, a year after they began playing Gaelic football.

By 2019, 6 of the 13 player squad for the Asian Gaelic Games, that year in Kuala Lumpur, were Cambodian. The team also competed in the South Asian games, held in Hanoi Vietnam, reaching the finals in the junior category. In that squad, the top scorer in both tournaments in the ladies’ junior category was a 14-year-old Cambodian by the name of Sovann Ava. Half their size and age but with triple the fight, Ava’s life outside of football is tumultuous to say the least, perennially shunted between various foster homing in NGO centres . Football allows her to throw those worries to the wayside, even for a brief respite, to release the warrior inside her so she can unleash terror on defences all across Asia.

Fast forward to 2022, 10 of the 13 player squad were Cambodian. Their heroic displays at the Asian Gaelic games that year caught the eyes of many in the world of Gaelic games. Often overrunning and out battling their predominantly Irish contemporaries, their tenacious tackling and lightning quick attack saw the club being bestowed the honor of representing Asia by the Asian County Board at the World Gaelic Games in Owenbeg Co Derry this year. It is the first time that one club is the sole representative for Asia in the non-Irish category.

Getting there however, will not be easy. For Cambodians to compete in regional tournaments around Asia, even to train and play in Cambodia, the club must cover all costs. This rings true also for getting to Derry. The costs for getting to the other side of the world for a club on the scale of Cairde Khmer is enormous. Cambodia ranks 152nd in the world in GDP per capita and most players come from difficult backgrounds. The club is actively looking for sponsorship for our flagship team. To say this is a trip of a lifetime for these women is more than an understatement. This ladies team have challenged Cambodian and Asian sporting norms, they’ve challenged what can be achieved through hard work and dedication. They’ve challenged what it means to be a Cambodian woman in today’s society. Most importantly, they’ve taught us just what anyone is capable of, if given the chance to succeed. Here’s hoping they can get the chance they more than deserve, to show it on the biggest stage.

Let’s Get To Derry! Click here to donate and email secretary.cambodia.asia@gaa.ie for further details.

 

 

 

 

 

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