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Mag & Topaz Guest: Michel A. Pasche, financier, philanthropist and sportsman

In his athletic sixties, Michel A. Pasche is a smiling, friendly man who spent his career in finance in the land of the Helvetians. Now semi-retired, Michel has decided to help Cambodian tennis through his association Tennis Cambodia for Kids - Switzerland.

Michel with Eden, managing director of Topaz restaurant
Michel with Eden, managing director of Topaz restaurant

Michel is no stranger to Topaz, as it was the first restaurant he visited for dinner on his first visit eight years ago. Over the Topaz restaurant's delicious "Business lunch", Michel shares his...




Michel A. Pasche in a few words

My name is Michel A. Pasche, and I am 63 years old. I've been in love with Cambodia since 2016 and I moved there with my wife in 2021. I'd been there several times before and, as a sportsman and tennis player in particular, I met the Secretary General of the Cambodian Tennis Federation and through our discussions about the needs of tennis in the Kingdom, I became a little more interested and wondered how I could help not only the Federation but especially the players.

So we set up an association under Swiss law to help the country's children play tennis. Initially, we started by collecting funds and equipment, and then we visited tennis schools several times, first in Kep, where we eventually settled for our holiday.

Then we visited the biggest tennis schools, particularly in Siem Reap, where at the time there were between 7 and 8,000 children playing tennis. And also Battambang, which is becoming the rising centre of tennis.

"We made a lot of visits, particularly to places where handicapped tennis is played, and that really touched us. Thanks to some donations, we were able to bring tennis chairs for the children. We were a little disappointed with the state of the chairs, but they were fantastic. They repaired them and had a great time''

A large part of tennis in Battambang is run by Spanish Catholic orphanages, which actually help the children to progress. So, year in, year out, we continued to help out and pass on the message from Switzerland until Covid brought almost everything to a halt. So we concentrated more on providing food for the children.

Then, in some cases, particularly in small tennis schools like Kep, we had volunteers to give them English lessons. These were residents, in fact, Americans or Australians who agreed to help the children on a voluntary basis.

What did you decide after Covid?

After Covid, which unfortunately lasted quite a long time, my wife and I decided to move to Cambodia. We agreed to spend about eight months a year there to follow up and direct some of the projects that are currently mainly focused on tennis.

What is your association's ambition?

I'd say our ambition is twofold. Firstly, it's about offering children a future, whether through tennis or related professions through training, particularly in partnership with the projects of the federation, which would like to be able to organise tournaments in Cambodia, because we have a brand new stadium which, even if it's a bit far away, could enable us to organise major tennis events.

So we still need linesmen and ball boys, as well as people who know how to string, maintain nets, recycle equipment and so on.

After a year's activity, how would you assess the situation, what are the reasons for satisfaction and any disappointments?

Well, the main reasons for satisfaction are that we've been able to relaunch the tennis schools and select a bunch of kids that we'd like to take a little further. We have projects with two, three or four children who really have the qualities to become very good players.

"Ideally, we'd like to get them to be able to travel and compete, because the big problem with tennis in Cambodia is that it's always the same kids playing against each other.''

So there comes a time when, unfortunately, things stagnate, and we have to give these children a chance. Our association puts a lot of emphasis on tennis, but also on education. We want these children to go to school and learn something, particularly English, which is vital. Obviously, we want to give them the chance to play against other players, to progress and, who knows, to join the national team and play in the Davis Cup. It's an event where Cambodia has its ups and downs and the team needs to stabilise.

The disappointing thing is that tennis is still very confidential. When we organise competitions, the number of spectators is very limited indeed. In general, the parents of tennis players aren't really interested in what their children are doing. And that's a disappointment. They don't really understand why their child plays tennis. There are sometimes young people in whom we believe and who "disappear from the picture".

How could this be improved?

I think that tennis schools need to be structured a little better, and my ambition is to create a structure similar to the sport-études. I also think that a basic tennis court could be installed in the top schools. There are quite a few institutions that do this as part of their school programme, whether for orphans or disadvantaged children. So there you have it, I think the potential is there, but tennis is not a priority sport, there isn't a tennis court in every countryside like there is for volleyball or football.

Tennis is a slightly more expensive sport, and it's also our job to find and bring in equipment and find funding.

Is there any particular project you'd like to talk about?

We have two projects. There's the young Cambodian player Ratanak who, in our opinion, has all the potential to become an excellent player and probably become Cambodia's number 1 in 5 or 6 years' time. We hope to be able to send him to an academy abroad for a few months so that he can really 'develop'.

How can you help him?

We can help him through our contacts, as we're lucky enough to be able to rub shoulders with a lot of former tennis players who are supporters of our association, and then of course financially because this kid comes from a poor, disadvantaged family.

The second project involves a young Cambodian girl from Battambang, now 13, who was more or less taken in by Real Madrid before Covid because she had footballing talent. Clearly, and I've seen it myself, she can still juggle. For me, as a former footballer, she's pretty impressive. She has a talent with everything that is a ball, a real talent that is now just waiting to be expressed in her new sport, tennis.

We are also supporting the Cambodia tennis project to build a women's team. Remember that the medals won at the SEA Games also came from the women players. Last year, we were lucky enough to have the first Cambodian woman to earn ATP points, Andrea Ka, who won a medal with her team-mate Chinda. I think these girls are role models for young Cambodian women and we'd like to follow in their footsteps and give them a chance.



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