Field of friendship

China's Village Super League brings soccer lovers together in Africa

China Daily | Updated: 2024-06-03 07:22
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A member of team Barrage Village takes a shot during the final game of the first African Village Super League in Parakou, Benin, on May 25. LI YAHUI/XINHUA

While West Africa's Benin approaches its rainy season, intermittent showers and sticky hot weather have done little to dampen the enthusiasm of local villagers who gathered to watch the inaugural Benin Village Super League.

Soccer teams from two villages in Parakou, a central city in Benin, competed on May 25 in the first Village Super League final. The match took place on a soccer field adjacent to the base of the Chinese support mission for cotton production in Benin, in Belle Cite Village.

For the past decade, the China-assisted cotton technology project has been operational in Parakou, a major cotton-producing region in Benin. The long-term technical assistance has fostered strong relationships with villagers. When the project team learned that the soccer pitch where villagers played had been expropriated, they decided to build a new one using agricultural machinery and repurposed materials.

Last summer, videos of some soccer matches in Rongjiang county, Qiandongnan Miao and Dong autonomous prefecture of Southwest China's Guizhou province, went viral and attracted tourists from around the globe. Inspired by this, the Village Super League in Parakou includes cultural performances during halftime, featuring Chinese martial arts and Beninese dance.

"Locals love soccer and I wanted to bring this model here and establish a similar league," said Shou Xiaoyong, head of the Chinese technical team.

Named the Friendship Football Field, the new facility was inaugurated in March last year. It quickly became the preferred venue for soccer among villagers in Belle Cite and nearby areas, hosting regular matches, especially during agricultural downtimes.

"The goal posts were welded by us along with local employees," Shou said. "We also dug drainage ditches around the pitch to maintain it during the rainy season."

As the tournament progressed, its popularity soared. Villagers from surrounding areas traveled on motorcycles with their children to watch the matches. "Initially, we had 100-200 spectators on one or two sides of the field. Now, we have 700-800 people packed around the entire field," Shou said before the final match.

Yves Koba, the head of Belle Cite Village, lauded the Village Super League for fostering communication and friendship among villages. "The league has made us more united. I hope it continues and that our villagers achieve even better results next year."

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