A magnificent construction that lives with a constant threat of destruction, the Olympic Stadium is a metaphor for the short-sighted mindlessness, grubbiness and political manoeuvring that attend a great deal of Phnom Penh urban “planning”. Better get there while you can before the lumpen barbarians win. Murmurings of demolition and redevelopment persist, despite carefully-worded reassurances from the Overseas Cambodian Investment Corporation, which has been developing land close to the National Sports Complex (the stadium’s official name). What will happen here once a new national stadium, sponsored by China, is completed, is anyone’s guess.
Architecturally, the site is important. Designed by Cambodia’s best known architect Vann Molyvann (who was also responsible for the Independence Monument and many of Phnom Penh’s most important and recognised structures), it is an example of the 1950s and 60s New Khmer movement, which worked on creating buildings that were specific to Cambodia but included international modernist ideals. Built in 1963-64, the complex has since hosted the GANEFO games, Khmer boxing bouts, the disabled volleyball world championships, international football matches and boy band leader, Ronan Keating (yes, really, we’re embarrassed too).
A visit to the stadium suits the frugally-minded, as it’s free to get in. You can circumnavigate the 84,000 seat outdoor arena and wander round the sports hall and the half-million dollar astroturf football pitch. Early risers are rewarded by the spectacle of hundreds of people doing their exercises around the concrete amphitheatre — everyone has their own particular style and signature moves.