The Smart Youth League, a tournament organized by Phnom Penh Crown and sponsored by the Smart phone company is not only proving highly popular, but is helping to plug the gap in youth football currently within the Kingdom.
BPVE went to talk to Heang Ly, the Phnom Penh Crown general-manager about the project, as well as their hopes for the future of youth development.
To read about watching Phnom Penh Crown click here
Youth football in Cambodia
As things currently stand Cambodia lacks any kind of reserve, or youth league either nationally, or regionally organized by the Football Federation of Cambodia (FFC). This means that young players tend to be either be part of academies (which all pro clubs must now have), or join the national academy – represented by Bati FC in CPL 2.
This though tends to mean that many of these players simply do not get to play, particularly from a youth, or grassroots level, which is where the Smart Youth League comes into play.
The Smart Youth League
Originally the idea of Phnom Penh Crown, the league is set up to not only help with football, but indeed be a force for good, with Heang Ly telling us “As a club we want to engage the community and use sport as a force for good. The league is not just about developing players, but more importantly health, entertainment and giving young people something productive to do”.
Something that was certainly evident on our visit, with a bustling Under 20’s game taking place featuring qualified referees and perhaps almost 100 fans in attendance.
And this community element was also obviously evident in how popular it was proving to be, with Heang Ly adding “So far we have had almost 50 teams register, with over 1500 players. This covers under 10 through 20, as well as women’s football”.
To read about Smart click here.
Moving forward with Youth Development
Initially the Smart Youth League is planned to run from March until May, the start of the SEA Games, but Heang Ly hopes it can be further developed stating “What is beautiful about this is there really are no limits. This is amateur grassroots football, so anyone can make a team and come and take part. It is much more inline with how things are done in Europe for example”.
Aside from simplicity, cost and the development of referees were also other key advantages “We have the pitch, so that is free to an extent, with our only outlay being $45 for the referees. This is another important part of this, the development of referees, they also need more match time, but should be paid for their time”.
The standard of refereeing in Cambodia has often been a bone of contention for many within the game, with regular calls for more training and investment.
And perhaps most importantly this was a system that could be replicated in other areas, particularly with FFC support. Siem Reap recently launched a similar youth league, but in other areas it is somewhat lacking.
So, while the Smart Youth League might not be the solution to grassroots football in Cambodia, it is at least perhaps an example of what can be achieved by people who care enough about the game.