‘Cunchao’ signs MOU with EPL to promote local development through sports
Published: Sep 04, 2023 09:58 PM
People watch a Cun Chao soccer match in Rongjiang county, Southwest China's Guizhou Province, on June 3, 2023. Photos: VCG

People watch a Cunchao soccer match in Rongjiang county, Southwest China's Guizhou Province, on June 3, 2023. Photos: VCG

China's village soccer tournament, nicknamed "Cunchao" in Chinese, in Rongjiang county, Southwest China's Guizhou Province and the English Premier League (EPL) have agreed on a strategic cooperation that includes potentially friendly soccer matches. Experts said that the promotion of sports like soccer requires wide participation among local villagers and if a sport can be popularized in rural areas, it will better promote the formation of sports culture throughout the country as a whole.

The two sides signed an MOU on cooperation, which includes plans to carry out training courses, at the 2023 China International Fair for Trade in Services in Beijing on Saturday evening. It also aims to leverage the resources and experience of the EPL to support local sports development and promote social, cultural and economic prosperity through sports.

According to a person who is familiar with the matter, the specific details of cooperation are still being worked out by both sides.

This year's Cunchao was held from May 13 to July 29, during which 20 village teams played 98 matches, attracting more than 1 million people to watch the game in person and more than 50 million online.

During the team entrance ceremony and breaks in every match, there were performances by local residents showcasing ethnic customs, according to media reports.

The promotion of sports like soccer requires that local villagers become the main body of the event, experts pointed out. 

"If we want a sport to build a good tradition in China, we may as well be active from the grassroots," Wang Dazhao, a Beijing-based sports commentator, told the Global Times on Monday. 

If soccer can be promoted with the support of the government and more systematic education, especially among children, and can be popularized in rural areas, it will have greater significance, Wang said.

The culturally charming Cunchao has also attracted widespread attention from foreign media and players.

English soccer legend and former Liverpool player Michael Owen sent his blessings via video during the games. 

"I wish Cunchao all the very best for the future," he said.

"I'm looking forward to the development after the signing of this cooperation package, and hope to see the famous active star Erling Haaland of the EPL come to the Cunchao. I believe he will come, it is just a matter of time," Li Yuanpan, captain of the Yuezhai village soccer team in the Village Super League, told the Global Times.

Hu Zhaoheng, a representative of the EPL, said that he watched a game of Cunchao in person in July and was deeply moved and inspired by the atmosphere. "Whether it is the EPL or Cunchao in Guizhou, the goal is to bring joy to the spectators through sports, which is something I have personally experienced in Guizhou," he said.

As one of the top five soccer leagues in Europe, the EPL's event organization and international influence are both high, ranking it among the best in the world.

"The EPL can share its rich experience in event operation and brand promotion and we look forward to both sides continuously strengthening cooperation," Hu said.

According to Hu, signing the MOU is just the beginning. The EPL will help Guizhou train soccer talents and promote the development of rural soccer, while strengthening cooperation in trade and investment projects to boost the development of the local cultural and tourism economy.

The development of soccer in Rongjiang has a long history. In the 1990s, local villagers who love soccer played on the grass near the river. These soccer fans spent two or three months bulldozing an area to make a simple open-air soccer field using tree branches as goals. This was the earliest version of Cunchao.

Xu Bo, the head of the county, said that of the 385,000 people in Rongjiang, 50,000 can play soccer or like to play soccer. Currently, every village in the county has a soccer team, and there are 14 standard soccer fields in Rongjiang. In recent years, the county has hosted campus soccer matches many times, and the local school soccer team has achieved excellent results in provincial and state competitions.