China's rural basketball enthusiasts fight on larger stage

(Xinhua) 10:47, July 13, 2021

Rural basketball stars of Xihaigu are fighting for the qualification to China's National Games in Haiyuan County, northwest China's Ningxia. (Xinhua/Li Guangtao)

With China's move of the targeted poverty-alleviation campaign, rural areas in Xihaigu saw great changes

YINCHUAN, China, July 12 (Xinhua) -- Knowing that the rural basketball stars of his hometown were fighting for the championship against 21 teams from other districts, cities, and counties, Ma Guixing, a 70-year-old farmer, drove all the way to cheer for them.

With only 24 seconds left, the Yuanzhou team, which Ma Guixing and other villagers rooted for, was just three points ahead of their opponent. The three-time champion managed to secure the win and got access to China's National Games on behalf of Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.

"I am so excited, and the game gives our rural basketball enthusiasts a larger stage," said Ma Guixing, a basketball fan from Sanying Village, Yuanzhou District of Guyuan City in China's underdeveloped Ningxia. Villagers who came together with him were all basketball fans over 50 years old.

This was the fourth regional-level basketball game held for farmers in Ningxia's Xihaigu, labeled the "most unfit place for human settlement" by the United Nations in the 1970s.

Though once in extreme poverty, Xihaigu farmers have been crazy about basketball for a long time - a basketball stand made of an iron ring, a plank and a stick, a worn basketball as well as a piece of dusty land, could bring about a feast for thousands of villagers.

"For watching a village-level game, villagers usually stood on stools, and each crotch of trees would be seized by an enthusiastic audience," recalled Ma Yuxiang, 41, a rural basketball star on the Yuanzhou team.

With China's move of the targeted poverty-alleviation campaign, rural areas in Xihaigu saw great changes. Besides, the Farmers' Fitness Project implemented for years ensures each village at least one outdoor basketball field.

To satisfy farmers' needs to watch and play basketball, Ningxia has begun to hold the regional-level game since 2018 and made it a brand competition.

At present, the basketball carnival for farmers provides them with professional fields and expands the influence of rural basketball stars.

The stadium with a capacity of some 3,000 audiences was built last year. Electronic scoreboard, smart basketball stand, large-size HD screen for live broadcast outside the stadium, as well as four livestreams all make this farmers' game more professional.

"There were over 200,000 online audiences each day, and the number reached 280,000 when an underdog team defeated a star team," said Bai Ziyan, vice president of Ningxia Basketball League, who was the online commentator. "The whole northwest China could watch the farmers' game!"

Over 20 years ago, Ma Yuxiang started to support his family after finishing middle school. Nowadays, he works for China Mobile's branch company in Guyuan and lays fiber optics for Xihaigu villages.

"All villages have access to the 4G network now, and our villagers can watch international basketball games to broaden horizons," said Ma Yuxiang. This time, many villagers were able to watch him play live on TV or cellphone, which encouraged him a lot.

As the quality of life improves, Xihaigu farmers are now even more enthusiastic about basketball. "Our village holds at least two basketball games each year, and sometimes we invite people from nearby villagers to join us. More audiences come here than before," Ma Yuxiang said.

The regional level game has inspired more village games. According to Su Fuyu, a village secretary who also joined the game this time, basketball games have enriched farmers' daily lives, and misconducts such as gambling, fighting and over-drinking during farm slack seasons are rarely seen.

"Though farmers are not professional players, the game still makes me excited since they play it nicely," said Bai, who once narrated many large basketball games such as CBA.

On the larger stage, some rural stars were noticed by enterprises and become semi-professional basketball players. Besides, many young college students returned to play for their hometown.

"Thanks to more and more professional PE teachers in our village school, our young men are playing more excellently," Ma Guixing said proudly. 

(Web editor: Xia Peiyao, Hongyu)


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