Dom Joly: Cambodia in grip of grim games

Weird World of Sport: Cock-fighting is weird. Why have cocks been chosen as opposed to ducks or swans?

Related Topics

I am in Cambodia doing "research" for a book I'm writing about my passion for travel to dodgy places. I'm visiting "The Killing Fields" tomorrow and today, I'm bizarrely off to see a man who is selling Pol Pot's shoes and loo. I've had my fill of dark depressing subjects in the last week or so and I decided to have a little look at the world of Cambodian sport.

The truth is it's a pretty minimalist area. They do play football here but they are spectacularly bad - so bad that most people support foreign teams. Their national football team was supposed to go to the Beijing Olympics but, according to rumours, the powers that be used the tickets to send their families there on a jolly.

The only real sport of any consequence here is kick-boxing. I know this sport as Thai kick-boxing but call it that here only if you want to lose your teeth. Here it's Cambodian kic-boxing, but it is exactly the same. Bouts are shown regularly on TV and the gambling is intense.

It's weird that in a country that has seen so much terrible violence in the last 50 years something violent like kick-boxing would be of such mass appeal. Violence, however, seems to be something that goes deep into the national psyche. The legendary French explorer of Indochina, Henri Mouhot wrote: "Cambodians appear only to have known how to destroy, never to reconstruct." He was obviously referring to their military history but it seems to apply to their sports as well.

While I was visiting one of the extraordinary temples that dot the countryside around the town of Siem Reap, I came across some amazing bas-reliefs on one temple called The Bayon. These bas-reliefs showed in some detail what Khmers, some 800 years ago, got up to for fun. Among others there was wrestling, hunting and elephant- and cock-fighting.

Wrestling, despite it's innate campness (something I've already written about having seen Greco-Roman wrestling at the Olympics and then received much hate mail from big strong wrestlers so we won't go there again) is a fairly standard historical practice and you see it in all parts of the world on ancient illustrations. There's no beating about the jungle, it seems that a lot of men, when given the opportunity, love to strip naked and roll around on the floor scrapping – and fair play to them.

It's a moot point as to whether hunting is nowadays seen as a sport but way back then, it most definitely was. Elephant-fighting is understandable but cock-fighting, however, is a weird one. Why have cocks been chosen to fight through history as opposed to, for instance, ducks or geese or swans? It's always the poor cockerels who get blades attached to their legs and have to step into the ring. Rather embarrassingly I speak about this from some experience as, very unwillingly, I attended a cock-fight in Mexico once, where it is legal. It was while I was filming Happy Hour and the director thought it would add local "colour".

It was a deeply depressing experience. We entered through these doors that looked like they were to a dungeon and came out in a fully seated "cock-pit" complete with commentator on the PA and barely dressed conchitas serving Coronas. Hundreds of Mexican men (it was all men) were off their seats and throwing money about at a table where, what I took to be the bookies, were seated. Then a fight would start and two cocks would be brought in and rubbed up against each other while being held by their "trainers". They were then let loose and would fight rather pathetically on the dusty floor until one would go down and the winning cock would jump on him.

All the time the commentator was keeping a really monotone description going that I couldn't understand but probably went something like "And cock number one has jumped on cock number two, now cock number two has jumped on cock number one, now, great excitement as cock number one has jumped back on cock number two ... holy Pedro, is this a cock jumping and a half...."

It was depressing and left me feeling a little hollow. We didn't stay long. I've just been offered the opportunity to try another great Cambodian sport: blowing up a cow with an RPG. I gave this offer a miss but there are plenty of takers in the backpacking hostels around town.

Wigging out over Murray's humour

More exciting news on the Andy Murray Tweet watch: "Fitness trainer in a wig at lunch. Regular forfeit for him now." Sounds an absolute hoot on the Andy express..

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron's 'compassionate conservatism' is now lying on its back  

Tory modernisation has failed under David Cameron

Michael Dugher
Russian President Vladimir Putin 'hits his foes where it hurts'  

Dominic Raab: If Western politicians’ vested interests protect Putin, take punishment out of their hands

Dominic Raab
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform