Friday July 29 2011, at the landmark Olympic stadium in Phnom Penh, the German team burst into joy : they have just won the Disabled Volleyball World Cup.
On the other side of the field, Cambodian teammates lower their heads in sorrow and deception. Having come so close, they have just missed their dream in becoming the first Cambodian sportsmen crowned World Champions. As the disillusion fades, the progression made over the past years should come to be realized : third position in 2007, fourth in 2009 and today runner-up.
The other success of the tournament falls to the Cambodia National Volleyball League for Disabled (CNVLD), the organizer of the World Cup for the third time in a row. The aim of their program, which has been running since 1996, has always been to help disabled people relocate into society through sports. The increasing interest of the media which surrounded the competition and the stadium packed to the rafters during the final game, shows just how far the organization has come and how much they have accomplished.
An un-precedent 5000 supporters attended the Olympic stadium for the final. For the first time in three competitions organized by CNVLD in Phnom Penh (2007, 2009 and 2011), Bayon TV, one Cambodian TV channel, broadcasted the most important games played by the local National team.
Volleyball is much appreciated in Cambodia. In the countryside at the end of the day, when field labors are done, men gather around a net to play. This popularity breeds good players who participate to the impressive quality of the game that has increased each year, raising awareness and drawing greater attention to disabled people in sport.
After the semi final, the Cambodian team is enjoying their first qualification to the final from 5 previous participations to the World Cup. Cambodia has the highest number of disabled people per capita, one in every 300 is an amputee. The main cause is mines that have been displayed in the countryside during the civil war in the 1970's. 70% of CNVLD's athletes are victims of mines.
A Laos player has injured his left leg and is treated by a medical team on the side of the pitch. Each World Cup tournament is under the rules and regulations of the World Organization Volleyball for Disabled (WOVD) : The WOVD's Mission is to encourage the growth and development of volleyball for athletes with a disability in all nations of the world through an organized program of education, instruction, promotion and competition, aimed at stimulating the athletes to join the world-wide Volleyball Family.
There are three levels of classification marked out for disability. Level A is players with less disability and only one player A can be court at any time among the 6 players on the court. Level C represents players with the most disability, like amputations below the elbow or knee and one player C must be court all the time. Players classified as B are of medium disability.
A Slovak player is serving during the semi final played against Germany.
The land of Khmers has brought luck to Germany particularly since their last three World titles (2007, 2009 and 2011) have all been awarded to them in Phnom Penh. On the photo, the German team jump off from the bench when the last point of the game is won.
Six teams attended the competition. The final results affirmed : 1st Germany (four Paralympic Gold medals, three World Cups and five European Championships), 2nd Cambodia, 3rd Sri Lanka, 4th Slovakia (Silver medalist at the Atlanta Paralympics in 1996 and winner in 2001 and 2003 of the World cups), 5th Kazakhstan and 6th, the newcomer Laos.
Pictures and Story: Jean Loncle - www.jeanloncle-photographe.com