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TO THE STATESMEN OF ASIA, MASTERY OF THE GAMES OF THE WEST IS MORE THAN RELAXATION: IT IS A LINK TO THE PEOPLE. LIKE MANY YOUNG FILIPINOS, PRESIDENT DIOSDADO MACAPAGAL (LEFT) LEARNED TO PLAY POOL IN HIS BOYHOOD, STILL SHOOTS A MEAN STICK TODAY. IN JAPAN, CROWN PRINCE AKIHITO'S LIFETIME ADDICTION TO TENNIS LED TO ROMANCE WHEN HE MET HIS FUTURE WIFE MICHIKO ON THE TENNIS COURT AT A MOUNTAIN RESORT.
HIGH SCORER WITH EITHER HAND
The benign gentleman enthroned at left in his basketball suit is Prince Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia, who has been much in the news lately for his independent attitude toward American foreign policy. After cancelling all financial and military aid from the U.S., he stretched out his right hand toward France for new help and even raised his left hand in a friendly wave toward Red China.
Then Sihanouk turned back with relish to an entirely different role, one in which he is neither so controversial nor so unpredictable: that of the highest-scoring basketball player in the world. Early this year the Prince set a new Cambodian record of 92 points in a single game. Most of the time, however, he scores only about 60 or 70 points. The Prince, it should be noted, is 41 years old, stands 5 feet 7 and is a bit on the plump side. He is also one of the jolliest, laughingest people in a country that easily leads all other nations on the face of the earth in annual laughs per person.
Prince Sihanouk is just as good at volleyball as he is at basketball. During the 1962-63 season he captained Cambodia's Palais Royal A team to the volleyball championship of the Corps Constitués et des Missions Étrangères, a league that meets once or twice a week on the grounds of the Prince's residence in Pnompenh. Among those who play on the other 11 teams in this extraordinary athletic league are the prime minister of Cambodia and most of his cabinet, a selection of the more agile ambassadors, several dozen members of the Cambodian parliament and any of the military brass who are currently ambulatory.
So far this year the palace A team is undefeated, but the league does not seem quite as strong as it did a year ago. The Czech ambassador and a very tall Russian doctor were both transferred home, thus taking much of the starch out of the Corps Diplomatique team; and the MAAG team, representing the U.S. Military Assistance Advisory Group, at first appeared to be weaker because of the loss of a couple of tall colonels and the replacement of the commanding general by another general who has not yet proved himself on the courts. Now comes even more drastic damage to the quality of the competition: the entire MAAG team has to go home because of the Prince's announcement that he no longer welcomes U.S. military aid—even in the form of volleyball players.
Although Prince Sihanouk lacks the reach to be a truly strong offensive volleyballer, he is a rock on defense, a powerful if somewhat unorthodox server and an inspirational captain. In Las Vegas the odds would have to be at least 5 to 1 that the palace A team will again lead the league, even though the Prince, like Mickey Mantle, is not entirely sound. He has a sprained third finger on his right hand and must encase it in a leather sheath while playing.
Among all the heads of state in the world today, Prince Norodom Sihanouk is—or has been—the outstanding athlete, and he certainly is the most versatile. Besides his vigorous participation in basketball and volleyball, he water-skis and jockeys his sports car around the countryside with all the restraint of a Paris taxicab driver. He was an accomplished equestrian until an injury dismounted him several years ago. And he played a sound game of soccer until he began to feel he was getting a bit elderly for such violent exercise.
Though the Prince loves to play these various games and loves even more to win, there is a good deal more to his sporting life than just that. One evening last summer as Sihanouk was about to step onto the basketball court for a league match, he stopped to chat with an American visitor who, mouth ajar in wonderment, was attending an extraordinary sports soiree laid on by the Prince.
"We are getting very old for this," the Prince told the visitor in his slightly hesitant English. Then he gestured toward hundreds of Cambodian children and grownups who were gathering around the court in the late afternoon and added, "But it is a good example for them. It encourages them to play."