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Common passion for soccer spurs friendship

By YANG JUN in Guiyang and CHEN MEILING in Beijing | China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-06-18 09:08
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Players receive their medals at an award ceremony after a soccer game at a village in the city of Parakou, Benin, on May 25. LI YAHUI/XINHUA

A Chinese company operating in Africa has brought the spirit of China's hugely popular Village Super League to the continent by building a community soccer pitch and organizing a grassroots competition.

Staff members at a Chinese-assisted cotton technology project in the city of Parakou, Benin, struck upon the idea of building the grounds and organizing the competition after noticing local children playing soccer despite having little equipment or even a suitable field to play on.

Shou Xiaoyong, leader of the technical team of the project and an organizer of the contest, said the league aims to further promote friendship and understanding between China and Africa through a shared love for soccer.

Twelve teams competed in the contest from March to late May, with 11 of the teams coming from nearby villages and one team from the University of Parakou.

Players included cotton farmers, tractor drivers, carpenters and college students.

The teams ran out onto a soccer field built using agricultural machinery and recycled material and shot at goals welded together by Chinese workers and local villagers.

At halftime, performances of Chinese martial arts, African drums and dance entertained the assembled crowd of 1,000 supporters.

On the sidelines, vendors sold steamed cassava, fried fruit and juice.

The top three teams received medals and trophies, and each was awarded a sheep.

Chinese experts have been in the city of Parakou for the past 10 years promoting cotton planting techniques and teaching locals about agricultural machinery technology.

"Local children in Benin often play soccer barefoot on the muddy ground. They don't have proper shoes, let alone jerseys and shorts, but they don't mind," Shou said, adding that villagers didn't even have a complete soccer field, and casually built a goal using branches and sticks.

The situation is similar to that in Rongjiang — the rural county in China's Guizhou province where the phenomenon of the Village Super League first took off.

Better facilities

A couple of decades back, young villagers in Rongjiang played soccer on a sandy wasteland. Around 2001, they transformed the wasteland into a soccer field with gates made of fir trees and lines drawn with lime. This marked the beginning of soccer matches being played by village teams in a league format, which was the precursor to the Village Super League in Guizhou.

In Parakou in March last year, Shou decided to build a standard soccer field on unused land named Friendship Soccer Field. The idea quickly gained strong support from the local villagers.

Degnimon Fulbert, a soccer player in the league, told China Youth Daily that for people in big cities such games are very common, but for people in small villages, it's rare to participate in such gatherings. "It's turning my 'soccer dream' into reality," he said.

Another player Karim Souleman, a telephone maintenance worker, told the paper that the league had helped improve his soccer skills.

Shou said villagers from more villages want to join, and they plan to increase the size of the league to 20 teams.

To further encourage soccer enthusiasts in Benin, a company in Rongjiang donated 200 jerseys valued at 20,000 yuan ($2,757) to them. The Guizhou Village Super League's logo, bullhead, is printed on the jersey to promote the spirit of striving and encourage them to play soccer well, according to Chang Longping from Guizhou Yueqian Chuanqi Clothing, the donor.

"Sports knows no boundaries, and the spirit of sports is always worthy of praise and admiration. We want them to feel our passion and friendship," said Chang.

Xinhua contributed to this story.

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