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

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executive - Call Centre Jobs

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Day In a Page

Read Next

i Editor's Letter: A royal serving the nation

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
David Cameron met with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko prior to the start of the European Council Summit in Brussels last month  

David Cameron talks big but is waving a small stick at the Russian bear

Kim Sengupta
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn