Phenomenon of Cunchao empowers local communities through soccer
Revitalize the game
Published: Mar 07, 2024 09:05 PM Updated: Mar 08, 2024 11:50 PM
Photo: Courtesy of Cunchao

Photo: Courtesy of Cunchao

Cunchao, or the Village Super League, dominated national headlines in China throughout last year thanks to the vibrant local community cultures it presents. Since its inception, the competition has been reshaping the rural landscape and uniting villages through the power of soccer. 

The story of how the grassroots soccer tournament in Southwest China's Guizhou Province is revitalizing rural communities through sports has inspired many. As a testament to that, Cunchao was recently awarded a special prize at the annual Chinese Golden Ball to recognize its achievements. 

However, the success did not come overnight. Previous attempts at traditional events like bullfighting and cultural festivals had failed to gain traction, leaving organizers scratching their heads for a winning formula. 

The road was fraught with challenges - from the logistical hurdles of organizing large-scale tournaments to the need to combat negative perceptions of soccer amid scandals that have plagued the sport's national governing body over the years.

Developing a league

Faced with the challenges of limited resources and cultural barriers, the local organizers embarked on a mission to find a new approach - one that would resonate with the modern aspirations of rural China while honoring its rich heritage. 

"Through amateur soccer activities, more people will know the sport, understand and enjoy the fun brought by it. This will help cultivate more talent and improve the overall level of Chinese soccer," Chen Xuemin, vice chief of Rongjiang county in Guizhou where Cunchao originates, told the Global Times in a recent interview.

Cunchao can also help in promoting the soccer culture in rural areas so that more people can feel the charm and value of soccer. The hot development of Cunchao has injected new vitality and hope into Chinese soccer.

Soccer is deeply rooted in Rongjiang. According to Chen, the sport has a history of more than 80 years, and the village league was held for more than 10 seasons before it had a massive success last year. 

In 2021, Rongjiang county was named one of the first-batch national-level county soccer models. It now boasts 25 soccer fields, 14 of which are in the county's downtown.

Social media also played a key role in enhancing the village league's development. Through various channels aimed at publicizing and promoting the tournament, it triggered nationwide attention and expanded the influence of the competition. 

Drawing inspiration from the rich cultural elements of Guizhou, they infused the Village Super League with elements of local tradition, cuisine and community engagement. The result was a winning formula that captured the imagination of villagers and spectators alike.

"The tournament focuses on the integration of culture and tradition. Spectators can see a variety of performances and activities with local characteristics, and the combination of these elements with the soccer match makes the tournament more attractive," Chen said on the success of Cunchao. 

Through soccer, villages have found a common ground for camaraderie and collaboration, transcending boundaries and differences. It's not just about kicking the ball into the net but it's about building bonds that strengthen social ties and promote mutual trust and support.

"The impact of Cunchao on community cohesion is profound. The frustrations over defeats were replaced by the pervasive atmosphere of joy, with smiles adorning the faces of villagers," Chen said. "Whether a team won or lost, there was applause for every goal scored. Even the cheerleaders of the losing team cheered on the winning team. This fosters a strong sense of unity among our people, transcending the outcomes of the matches."

As the success of Cunchao is deeply intertwined with the economic and social fabric of the region, such as the stylish group dance in traditional ethnic uniforms, the organizers aim to strengthen their efforts in showcasing Guizhou's cultural heritage and culinary delights in the future.

From traditional festivals to gastronomic adventures, visitors can immerse themselves in the unique charm of Guizhou's villages, contributing to the local economy and fostering cross-cultural exchange.

A grassroots soccer tournament is held in Southwest China's Guizhou Province. Photos: Courtesy of Cunchao

A grassroots soccer tournament is held in Southwest China's Guizhou Province. Photos: Courtesy of Cunchao

Greater vision

Cunchao is bridging the urban-rural divide, fostering connections between city dwellers and rural communities. 

The maiden friendship tournament involving amateur teams from Guizhou, South China's Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macao Special Administrative Regions is scheduled to be held during the National Day holidays in October.

As Cunchao continues to evolve, Chen, along with his colleagues, envisions even greater heights for the grass-roots league.

Plans for international collaborations such as the inaugural "Belt and Road" Village Super League Friendship Tournament are already underway, signifying a bold step toward global expansion. 

But Chen is more grounded as he seeks to attract more specialists and talent to boost the tournament's development. 

"The goal of Cunchao is to build a world-class cultural brand, which needs a strong team of talent with world vision and branding ability to support it," Chen said. "The cultivation of talent is a key factor in determining how far we can go. We will communicate with sports management authorities and other professional organizations to explore a way to develop the village super league."

As the new season of Cunchao will kick off on March 16, the vitality of the grassroot event is poised to be injected into the country once again, promoting cultural exchange and mutual understanding on a national and international scale.