AFL Multicultural Round – An AFL Umpire’s Journey…via Cambodia

With the AFL Multicultural Round just around the corner from 7-9 August, WESLEY HULL takes the opportunity to look at some lesser-known examples of how people with vastly diverse ethnic and multicultural backgrounds have contributed to the great game of Australian Rules Football. Meet Sampho from Cambodia.


The Cairns AFL scene has a boundary umpire with a slightly different journey to most others. For the record, Sampho (pronounced Samp-ho with a strong “P” sound) is most likely not the first ever Cambodian born umpire in Australian Rules football ranks. I would imagine there are more in the southern states where there are larger Cambodian communities that have been exposed to the game for longer.

Nevertheless, Sampho Hing has found his way onto the Cairns football fields, and for those few hours as he runs the boundary he stands as a gleaming international beacon for our game. He becomes a subtle invitation for others to follow his lead and slowly, gradually grow the game across the world.

The first question Sampho answered was the journey from Cambodia to Australia.

“I come from Cambodia. I was born at Kampong Thom Province, [in the] middle of Cambodia, and I had been sent to work at Mondulkiri Province, in the North East of Cambodia.”

“In 2003, while I was working at the Department of Agriculture, I heard the announcement on the radio about scholarship to study in Australia. Then I started to study English by myself. I had started to apply for the scholarship since 2004, if my memory is not wrong. There are many steps to apply this scholarship, but I was unsuccessful all the time. Fortunately, in 2010, I passed the scholarship and I was allowed to study English for one year at ACE in Phnom Penh in Cambodia. However, after studying, my English was still not good enough, and the scholarship was withdrawn. In 2012, I reapplied for the scholarship to study in Australia again and in New Zealand. I got these two scholarships, but I dropped New Zealand because I was concerned about my English although I like the course I selected at that country. Again, I was allowed to study English for one year and then I got successful in overall IELTS. Finally, I got the scholarship to study in Australia after my hard work for more than ten years.”

After looking at options in Adelaide and Canberra, Sampho chose to come to james Cook University in Cairns, mainly because the weather was warmer.

When asked whether he had seen Australian Rules football before, what attracted him to the game or had he even heard of the Cambodian Eagles national team based in Phnom Penh, Sampho was quite candid.

“I am afraid that I had no idea about Australian Rules football before. I just knew that Australia had their own sport, this sport, when I was studying English, but I had no idea what it was all about. Sometimes I thought that it was similar to rugby. But, actually, it is not.”

“I was so busy with studying English and being with my family. I had no idea about the Cambodian Eagles club in Phnom Penh. I just heard when you told me.”

“When I was studying in the International Academic Program at JCU, I was searching for part-time jobs and then I saw the announcement about the game manager of AFL. I decided to apply this position because I used to play sport in Cambodia, such as football or soccer, volleyball and running. I used to be a player and a leader of teams. I participated in many events in sports in Cambodia in university and public and I used to win two championships in running in my country when I was studying at the university. In addition, I used to be a leader of some teams in sports to compete with other teams from other provinces in different events and the teams got good achievement. This created the interest in the sport in Cairns. After I applied for the job through the Internet, I was asked to train as a boundary umpire. Frankly, I did not know what the term “umpire” meant at the first time. I have since gone to training on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”

At the first time, I tried to find a part time job so that I can make some money. But there have been other reasons for being an umpire also:

*  I can immerse myself in new culture;

*  I now know new people and new places in Cairns;

*  I can stay in healthy both physically and mentally;

*  I have new experiences in this country related to Aussie Rules;

*  I have a lot of fun when I have at both training and games;

*  I can release stress that I have from studying and from family. I missed my wife and three children when they have not yet arrived Australia. They arrived Australia on 25 June2014;

*  I can learn English from other umpires although some slang and dialogue I don’t know. They use an Aussie accent which is hard for me to hear. Now I am getting used to it.


“I am afraid that I have not watched the game much yet, but I watch more than before. I have not had a TV at home yet, but I watch the games when arrive early to umpire. I usually arrive around one hour or even longer than this before the game start and I usually do the senior game, so I can watch the reserve one. I hope when I have a TV I will watch more games and I will teach my family to watch them. I really fell in love with the Aussie Rules. However, I prefer not to play because I feel a bit dangerous for me. I am not a person to put myself at risk too much.”

‘I do really like to umpire. I have a lot of fun, get some money and keep healthy and fit. Other umpires usually play around with my name. They don’t pronounce my name properly or the same as my language, but they change it to another one. Actually it is hard for someone to remember my name and then I try to tell them another way round to remember it. They can think my name like “Shampoo”. After that a few people call my name correctly, but others not although they can say it. Now, when I meet them they usually call me Shampoo, not Sampho. I sometimes feel annoyed, but I think if they can be happy and there is a fun, it should be fine.”

“I usually laugh when I am umpiring because a lot of strange things occur during the game even though there are some sadness happens because the players show bad behaviour to each other. They have a serious challenge and then it can create conflicts.”

To end the interview I pointed out that Sampho was one of the very few Cambodians to come to Australia for a new life and find themselves running the boundary line at Aussie Rules footy matches. I asked him whether that made him proud.

“I am so proud to be an umpire. I know the [game of] Aussie rules [better now] and I can watch and teach other people about the game. Up to now, I have umpired 29 games: 13 senior games, 6 reserve games and junior the rest. Some Australian people they don’t know about this game and I feel that I am ahead of those people and I can get involved deeper than them. I can umpire the senior game which is the hardest.”

Sampho has led a courageous journey to seek the best life for himself and his family and it has taken him many miles from his home and culture. But we in Australian Rules football circles are all the better for it and should embrace what Sampho has done and hold his achievements up as a template for others to follow from all over the world.



About Wesley Hull

Passionate lover of Australian Rules football. Have played and coached the game and now spend my time writing about the game I love and introducing young people to the game through school coaching. Will try and give back to the game what it has given me for more that 40 years.


  1. Cat from the Country says

    Well done Sampho.
    So please you have embraced footy as it is known in these Southern states

  2. Steve Hodder says

    That is just beautiful!


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