Tennis Cambodia was today awarded the inaugural International Tennis Hall of Fame Global Organization of Distinction Award in recognition of its outstanding achievements in rebuilding tennis in the nation following the sport’s eradication during the genocide by the Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s.
The award was presented by the International Tennis Hall of Fame (ITHF) in partnership with the International Tennis Federation (ITF) at the ITF Annual General Meeting in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
ITHF CEO Todd Martin said: “The International Tennis Hall of Fame Global Organization of Distinction Award recognizes an organization that has shown great commitment to inspiring the growth of tennis globally, which is an important shared priority of the International Tennis Hall of Fame and the International Tennis Federation.”
Nominations were submitted by the tennis community at large, with the winner selected by a committee comprised of representatives of the ITHF and the ITF. The award will be presented annually to a tennis organization, association, federation, or facility that has demonstrated a successful track record of distinguished service and contributions towards the growth of tennis.
Rithivit Tep, General Secretary of Tennis Cambodia, said: “I’d like to dedicate this award to the 2 million people that died, a lot of them members of my family. We have a right, Tennis Cambodia has a right. All we wanted to do was be part of the family of tennis nations in the world. We have managed to do so by sheer inspiration, and with the support of the ITF that has helped us give tennis back the nation and change lives.”
The Tennis Federation of Cambodia (Tennis Cambodia) was officially re-established in 1994 under the current President Prasidh Cham. He joined forces with Tep, who has been General Secretary since 1997.
Tep, son of prominent 1950s Cambodian player Khunnah Tep, and Cham were instrumental in reviving the sport in Cambodia following the horrors of the Khmer Rouge era, during which many tennis players were killed and all courts and equipment were destroyed. Among the 40 registered national players of the time, only three tennis players survived the genocide.
With virtually no qualified coaches and only a handful of players, Tennis Cambodia came back to life under the slogan “From Killing Fields to Tennis Courts”. Tep began coaching young players, and the federation sought additional funding and grass roots support from the ITF.
In 1997, just three years after Tennis Cambodia was re-established, the nation returned to international competition, taking part in the Southeast Asian Games. Tan Nysan won the nation’s first tennis medal (bronze) at the Games in 2007, a major turning point for tennis in Cambodia. He repeated the feat in 2009, and Cambodia medalled in tennis again in 2011 and 2015.
In 2012, Cambodia took part in Davis Cup by BNP Paribas for the first time, competing in Asia/Oceania Zone Group IV and earning instant promotion to Group 3. Cambodia has competed in Davis Cup every year since.
Additionally, Cambodia has produced its first ranked WTA player. Andrea Ka, who competed for the University of San Francisco, is currently ranked inside the top 700 on the WTA Tour and will be a contender at the Southeast Asia Games in Malaysia later this month.
Grass roots tennis efforts have been an integral part of Tennis Cambodia’s efforts to grow the sport. In December 2015, Tennis Cambodia achieved a major milestone, reaching a total of 10,000 children served through grass roots programming in schools and orphanages. With the support of the ITF, coaches receive regular training and bring what they learn into the schools and other youth programs.
Through grass roots tennis initiatives, Tennis Cambodia strives to utilize tennis to make a positive impact on people’s lives well beyond the tennis courts. The impact has already been seen in many young players, notably Chheang Vannasak, who came up through Tennis Cambodia programming and has earned a college tennis scholarship at Lewis & Clark State College in Idaho.
Tennis Cambodia has also created and hosted numerous tournaments, including ITF Pro Circuit and Juniors events, which bring in players from around the world.
Support for Tennis Cambodia’s efforts comes from beyond the national borders as well. Indian tennis player Leander Paes, winner of 15 Grand Slam tournament titles in doubles and mixed doubles, has been an ardent supporter of Tennis Cambodia, playing in exhibition events and securing financial grants for the organisation. He helped the organisation receive an ATP Aces for Charity grant, allocated to “The Killing Fields to Tennis Courts Foundation”, which aims to place tennis courts in areas cleared of the landmines planted by the former Khmer Rouge regime.
Martin said: “Starting from a place of having no resources, equipment, or players, Tennis Cambodia has built a successful national tennis program. The organization has reignited a love for the sport among the Cambodian people and has introduced tennis to thousands of children. They have only just begun, yet they have accomplished so much. On behalf of the International Tennis Hall of Fame and our partners at the International Tennis Federation, we are thrilled to be able to recognize the efforts and successes of Tennis Cambodia before all of their peers here at the ITF Annual General Meeting. We look forward to seeing a bright future for tennis in this great nation.”
ITF President David Haggerty said: “Tennis Cambodia is highly deserving of this honor and the ITF is very pleased to be able to partner in this great recognition of the federation. For our sport to continue to grow around the world, it is vital that it be introduced to new audiences in all corners of the world. Tennis Cambodia has made outstanding progress in building a national audience of players and fans. They have overcome the unthinkable, and with great passion, they have built something very special for their nation. The ITF looks forward to supporting the federation in their future endeavors to grow our sport.”
Learn more about Tennis Cambodia's extraordinary story in this feature from CNN Open Court.