Feature: From China's "Village Super League" to Kenya's "Long-running Village," sports bring prosperity to villagers-Xinhua

Feature: From China's "Village Super League" to Kenya's "Long-running Village," sports bring prosperity to villagers

Source: Xinhua

Editor: huaxia

2023-09-29 14:58:30

by Xinhua writer Zhou Xuanni

GUIYANG/NAIROBI, Sept. 29 (Xinhua) -- This summer, the unexpected popularity of China's grassroots football games known as "Village Super League" has attracted millions of people to Rongjiang County in southwest China's Guizhou Province to experience the pure joy of village football games.

Villagers from remote townships participate in the games or cheer for their villages' football teams. Booming village football games bring new vitality to China's rural sports development.

At the same time, on the other side of the planet, Iten, a small village located in western Kenya's Elgeyo-Marakwet County, has become world-renowned as the home of long-running champions.

Its high altitude, favorable climate and splendid landscapes bring both local and foreign athletes here for training. But in the old days, Iten was no different from other small and unprivileged villages in Kenya. Running became a way out for many young people.

Over the past few decades, runners worldwide have come here to train, and locals who love running have jointly created this renowned "long-running village."

The two places, yet different and far apart, share one thing in common -- the love for sports. Both have found a new road to rural development and revitalization by promoting folk sports.


Guizhou's "Village Super League" is a football competition comprising 20 local village football teams. Players are local villagers from all walks of life, such as excavator operators, teachers, salesmen and butchers.

To watch a game, people from nearby villages come to the site with local specialties and ethnic costumes to cheer for their teams and welcome tourists from afar. Their love for sports has touched countless viewers and netizens at home and abroad.

From May 13 to July 29, in just two months, related content of the game has been viewed more than 30 billion times on social media platforms, and its popularity continues to surge.

Lin Tao, deputy director of the Tourism Bureau of Rongjiang County, said, "Since the games began, the League has become a phenomenon of sports and cultural events."

During football games held on weekends, countless tourists flocked to Rongjiang County. Enormous tourism needs have brought massive development to the county.

Long Chunmei opened a stall near the League's arena selling specialty snack rolled noodles. She told reporters that her daily sales were once only 1,000 yuan (about 137 U.S. dollars). After the League went viral online, her daily weekend sales could reach 7,000-8,000 yuan (about 958-1,095 U.S. dollars).

"The local government has set up thousands of night market stalls around the stadium to make it easier for locals to do small business," Long said.

The League also benefits cultural industries and agricultural products.

"Rongjiang's beef, monk fruit, passion fruit, Kudzuvine Root, batik, embroidery and other local products are selling well outside the mountainous area," said Luo Liping, the first Party secretary of Baibei Village, Xinghua Shui Nationality Township of Rongjiang County.

Baibei Village, located in a deep mountainous area, is nearly an hour's drive from Rongjiang County. More than 2,000 Miao people live there. Local villagers are proud of their embroidery and batik skills.

"In the past, villagers' handicraft skills were little known and were not selling well," Luo said.

Today, the village makes batik T-shirts, scarves and other products to be sold at the "Village Super League" stadium. Sales have exceeded 200,000 yuan (about 27,380 U.S. dollars) since the game started.

"I'm working overtime almost daily, and my husband and daughter are also busy," said Pan Laola, a villager in her 50s.

Pan's family sold more than 30,000 batik products in two months, and their income more than doubled.

According to local authorities, during the "Village Super League" period, online and offline sales of agricultural special products in Rongjiang County exceeded 400 million yuan (55 million U.S. dollars), up nearly 60 percent.

The cash flow brought by the League has inspired many surrounding villages to develop new strategies.

Wu Huayong, 35, is a football player and deputy director of the Party committee of Gaobian Village in Langdong Town.

Videos about Wu's astonishing performances, composed of bicycle kicks, have gone viral online. He told reporters that his village has lush mountains and beautiful scenery but is far from Rongjiang County.

"In recent years, our village built sightseeing footpaths and pavilions and developed industries such as monk fruit. If we can attract more sports resources and integrate agriculture, culture and tourism, we can bring more income to villagers," said Wu.

"Our members of the village's Party Committee have been discussing and communicating with villagers to see if we can set up homestays to enhance our reception capacity and lay a good foundation for future development," Wu added.

He believes the "Village Super League" will attract young people to rural agriculture, culture and tourism.


With an altitude of about 2,400 meters and a slight temperature difference in four seasons, Iten, a plateau town in western Kenya, is an ideal training place home to many long-running champions and famous athletes and is known as the hometown of world long-running champions.

At six o'clock in the morning, several athletes can be seen running along a dirt road. Most athletes are local runners with dark skin and lean figures.

"I grew up with little to nothing. We used to own a few farms, but we struggled to go to school," said Edwin Kibichiy, a Kenyan long-running athlete, who recalled running was nothing but the way to travel.

Since age five, he ran three miles to school every day and would run to complete errands. Day-to-day running has led Kibichiy to consider running as a livelihood and career.

"I've been able to purchase my own land. I bought more than 3 acres of land with the money I got from running, and then I pay school fees for my brother's children and provide for my family. If it weren't for running, I would struggle to make a living," said Kibichiy.

"Iten has changed a lot. I stayed here around 2012. There were a few shops. There was just empty land, but now we have so many new hotels," Kibichiy added.

Long-running changed Iten a lot, according to Purity Koima, executive committee member of Sports, Youth Affairs, Culture, Children and Social Services of Elgeyo-Marakwet County.

"People come here to train as a team. Some come on individual experience, leave, and become champions back home. We've seen people build hotels to meet demand, and rental houses have increased to accommodate athletes. Business is growing. We've seen shoe and equipment shops spring up," Koima said.

Joseph Mwangi, manager of Kerio View hotel in Iten, has been working here for 21 years. "Iten is also a farming place where we can access fresh milk, vegetables and fruits. That is also very important because we now don't have to go for a long distance to the marketplace," Mwangi said.

With a population of more than 40,000, Iten has over 3,000 professional resident runners and its infrastructure is also gradually advancing. Koima hopes that Iten can continue to attract more investment to turn dirt roads into runways.

Ababu Namwamba, Cabinet secretary for Youth Affairs, Sports and the Arts of Kenya, said young people can become professionals and build sustainable livelihoods that benefit the community and the country.

"We are very keen to invest in places like Iten to become destinations for elite training," Namwamba said. Enditem

(Yan Ran, Luo Yu, Zhang Dailei, Guo Yuqi and Zhang Yuan also contributed to the story.)