Village Super League looks to net profits

By YANG JUN in Guiyang and ZHANG XIAOMIN | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-07-19 07:27
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Two village teams play in a Village Super League match in Rongjiang county, Guizhou province. Photo by Luo Jinglai / For China Daily

Grassroots soccer tournament attracts thousands of fans, boosts regional tourism, businesses

Rongjiang was an obscure county in Guizhou province until May when it became famous for staging the Village Super League, or cunchao, a grassroots soccer tournament.

The county in Qiandongnan Miao and Dong autonomous prefecture, which has a population of 385,000, has welcomed more than 1 million tourists since the ongoing rural soccer tournament began on May 13.

"It has become a phenomenon," said Lin Tao, deputy director of the tourism bureau of Rongjiang.

"Every week, more than 40,000 spectators flock to the stadium for the 'Super Saturday' games. As of the end of June, the tournament has had more than 20 billion views on the internet," he said.

Over the three-day Dragon Boat Festival holiday alone, the county received 350,000 tourists and tourism income reached 444 million yuan ($62 million), about five times the amount for the same period last year.

Thanks to the festive atmosphere, uncomplicated and exciting style of play, and some spectacular goals, the event has gained a widespread following.

Ex-England soccer star Michael Owen recorded a video message expressing his support for the competition, while former Asian Footballer of the Year, retired China international Fan Zhiyi, led a team to interact with the local players. Media, both in China and overseas, have been fascinated by the event.

"The locals are really moved and feel proud about the attention and influx of visitors to Rongjiang," said Yang Yajiang, one of the initiators of the tournament.

"Many villagers offer to help, distributing free bottled water and snacks. People here are united as one family."

Yang, 49, is the headmaster of a local primary school, but since the tournament started he has taken on several other roles. He is director of performances, coordinator of various activities and also plays for his village team.

"I'm really busy, but I don't feel tired," Yang said, adding that the passion of the local people and the praise of netizens across the country has invigorated him. He said, he felt, "as if I were 20 years younger."

Organized by the county's soccer association, the tournament has a group stage followed by a knockout format, with 20 teams competing. The players are from all walks of life and include farmers, vendors, small business owners, construction workers and excavator drivers.

Divided into two groups, the teams compete on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, with the final scheduled for July 29.

Villagers organize the teams, match schedules, rules, programs and prizes. The local government provides the venues, electricity, communications, security and sanitation services.

"It is a pure soccer competition with no financial interests involved," said Yang. "We are playing not for the prize but the honor of our villages."

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