China’s Village Super League Gains Popularity in Benin

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football
football

As 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 final of the inaugural Benin “Village Super League.”

On Saturday, football teams from two villages in Parakou, a central city in Benin, competed 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. The fierce competition and impressive performances elicited cheers from the enthusiastic spectators.

Ultimately, the team from Barrage Village clinched the championship. Amid the sound of music, the top three teams were awarded medals, trophies and prizes on the podium.

Mohamed Gbeha, a supporter of finalist team Park 7 and a cotton farmer, expressed his support for his team and gratitude to the Chinese project for organizing the football league. He said he often sought advice from Chinese experts on cotton growing techniques.

For the past decade, the China-assisted cotton technology project has been operational in Parakou, a major cotton-producing region in Benin. Chinese experts have been conducting experiments, promoting cotton planting techniques, providing technical guidance on agricultural machinery and training local agricultural technicians.

This long-term technical assistance has fostered strong relationships with the local villagers. When the project team learned that the football field where villagers played had been expropriated, they decided to build a new one using agricultural machinery and repurposed materials.

“The goalposts were welded by us along with local employees. We also dug drainage ditches around the pitch to maintain it during the rainy season,” said Shou Xiaoyong, head of the Chinese technical team.

Named the Friendship Football Field, the new facility was inaugurated in March 2023. It quickly became the preferred venue for football among villagers in Belle Cite and nearby areas, hosting regular matches, especially during agricultural downtimes.

In the summer of 2023, videos of some football matches in Rongjiang County, Qiandongnan Miao and Dong Autonomous Prefecture of southwest China’s Guizhou Province, went viral and attracted tourists worldwide. Inspired by this, the Village Super League in Parakou includes cultural performances during halftime, featuring Chinese martial arts and Beninese dance.

“Locals love football and I wanted to bring this model here and establish a similar league,” Shou added.

In March 2024, with the support of the local farmers’ association, Chinese experts organized the first Village Super League in Benin. The tournament featured 12 teams, including villagers from six local villages and a team from Parakou University, comprising cotton farmers, tractor drivers, carpenters and students.

After the finals, the project team organized a special award ceremony to honor the teams, as well as the “Best Football Player” and “Best Goalkeeper.” Each of the top three teams received a goat, symbolizing good fortune and prosperity.

“Initially, we did not plan to provide trophies and medals, thinking material rewards would suffice,” said Shou. “However, due to the strong requests from the players, we had these honorary awards specially made in China.”

Akilou Atesse, the cotton production supervisor trained by the Chinese project, expressed his pride in helping construct the field and organize the tournament. “When the field was repaired, villagers were thrilled to have a place to play football again. I collaborated with the Chinese experts to reach out to other villages, and they all responded positively,” he said.

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 noted before the final match.

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

Looking ahead, Shou shared plans to select players from the top three teams to form an elite team. “In the future, we might send them to Guizhou, the birthplace of the Village Super League, to compete with local teams,” he said.

According to the head of the Chinese technical team, combining agricultural technical assistance with the Village Super League not only promotes advanced agricultural technology but also strengthens civil interaction between China and Benin. “This model enhances trust and respect for Chinese aid among the people of Benin,” he concluded.

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