Thailand have pulled out of the kickboxing competition at this year's Southeast Asian Games in Cambodia because a different name to Muay Thai is being used ©Getty Images

A row over the name of the kickboxing competition at this year's Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Cambodia has erupted after Thailand announced they were boycotting the sport there because local organisers are using the local name Kun Khmer rather than Muay Thai.

The National Olympic Committee of Thailand (NOCT) has now officially confirmed that no athletes from the competition will compete in the sport at the Games, due to be hosted in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh from May 5 until 17.

The NOCT has decided, however, that it will not take the matter any further to try to limit the damage the row is causing.

Cambodia last month removed all reference to Muay Thai from the SEA Games kickboxing schedule, sparking a backlash among Thailand’s Muay Thai governing bodies.

Muay Thai, which translates to "Thai Boxing", is the national sport of Thailand.

It is a martial art with roots originating from military use dating back to around the 13th century during the time of the Sukhothai Kingdom.

But Cambodia has maintained that the sport traces its origins to the country's own martial art, Kun Khmer.

Cambodia claims that Kun Khmer is the spiritual founding martial art of kickboxing, which Thailand disputes ©KKIF
Cambodia claims that Kun Khmer is the spiritual founding martial art of kickboxing, which Thailand disputes ©KKIF

The row is part of a long-standing wider cultural dispute between the two countries.

Tensions between Thailand and Cambodia erupted into armed conflict in 2008 over disagreements about which nation administers the Preah Vihear Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located near the border between the two countries.

Cambodia has switched supervising bodies from the International Federation of Muaythai Associations to the Kun Khmer International Federation (KKIF), which is not recognised by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) or the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA).

NOCT commissioner Chaiyapak Siriwat, a vice-president of the OCA, admitted that also contributed to their decision not to take part in the sport at the SEA Games.

"We have raised the issue with the IOC and OCA and are waiting for Cambodia’s response," Chaiyapak said.

"However, in the meantime we will not oppose the hosting of Kun Khmer, to avoid sparking an international dispute."

The KKIF claim that since the decision to change the name of the sport from Muay Thai to Kun Khmer, they have received membership requests from 20 new nations, in addition to the exiting 29.

"Over the past few days, many countries have approached us about joining the Federation, and we now have almost 50 members," KKIF President Meam Ra told The Phnom Penh Post.

Competitors in the SEA Games must wear Khmer uniforms and head pieces, and traditional music must be played at matches.

The KKIF is preparing to send coaches to train the athletes of the new members.

"International media companies have been in contact with us too - they all want to learn about the history of our ancestral martial art," Meam said.

"We explained the history of the art to them, and presented clear evidence that shows its ancient connection to Cambodia and its people.

"We were able to point to sculptures at Angkor Wat - and other ancient temples - and many documents that show its origins in the Kingdom.

"In addition, Kun Lbokator [martial art] was added to the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity on November 29, 2022.

"This also convinced them of our right to claim Kun Khmer as our own, and they have all joined us."

But NOCT deputy chairman Warin Tansupasiri claimed that the KKIF is not recognised by the World Anti-Doping Agency, meaning that it is not accredited by international sporting authorities.

This year’s SEA Games is due to be the last time that a host country can change or add new sports, as a new Charter governing the event is due to come into effect in 2025 when Thailand is scheduled to be the host.

"The new Charter will list the main sports for SEA Games based on sports in the Olympic and Asian Games while allowing only two to five local sports to be added," Warin said.

Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore, as hosts of the next three SEA Games in 2025, 2027 and 2029, respectively, have agreed that all three events will have the same sports.

"The next three SEA Games will be the most standardised ever," said Chaiyapak.