Sports enliven life in Xinjiang, kindling dreams

(Xinhua) 15:51, May 28, 2024

URUMQI, May 27 (Xinhua) -- As the Xinjiang Flying Tigers took the court for their sixth appearance in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) Finals last Tuesday, Dilxat Abaybao, watching the live broadcast at home, couldn't resist joining the cheers echoing from the arena.

The 33-year-old, born prematurely and facing significant challenges since birth, finds solace and inspiration in his lifelong passion for basketball, despite speech and mobility impediments.

In Xinjiang, sport is more than just a game. It is a source of inspiration, resilience and unity, fueling dreams and shaping futures in this dynamic corner of the world.

Abdusalam Abdurexit of Xinjiang Flying Tigers signs autographs during the play-off semifinal first leg match between Xinjiang Flying Tigers and Zhejiang Golden Bulls at the 2023-2024 season of the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) league in Urumqi, northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, May 2, 2024. (Xinhua/Hu Huhu)


Dilxat's love for basketball began at the age of five, and he regularly trained for two hours at a gym in Urumqi, Xinjiang's capital. His coach, Narsu, is often moved to tears watching him run.

"He never bows to fate, and perseveres in pursuing his dream. He is an inspiration to many of us," Narsu said.

Dilxat's tenacity was fueled by the Flying Tigers. His favorite player, Abdusalam Abdurexit, overcame an ACL injury to help the team secure second place in the CBA regular season and earn the MVP title. After a five-year absence, Xinjiang returned to the CBA Finals.

In January, players personally invited Dilxat to watch a live game and join them for warm-ups, where he closely observed their techniques.

"They encouraged me to keep pursuing my dreams, and I want to move as quickly as they do," said Dilxat. "Next training session, I'll try to increase my speed a bit more."

It's no wonder that official CBA data for the 2023-24 season indicated Xinjiang led the league in ticket sales. For Dilxat and countless Xinjiang residents, watching the Flying Tigers' games has become an integral part of life as the team embodies hope, unity, and the indomitable human spirit.

The Flying Tigers also serve as a connection for those thousands of kilometers away from their hometown. When the team played away games, fans turned out in droves, transforming those venues into what felt like their home court.

"We come from different ethnic groups like Han, Uygur, and Kazakh, but we are together, feeling proud of our Xinjiang roots," Chen Guiyang, who lives in Shenzhen, wrote on his X-like Weibo account.

"Work is busy, and we can't always go back to our hometown, and this team represents home. Their relentless fighting spirit on the court constantly inspires me to face life's challenges with strength," he said.


Last week, the Chinese Football Association unveiled its squad for upcoming FIFA World Cup qualifiers against Thailand and South Korea, with Xinjiang's 21-year-old Behram Abduweli earning his first ever call-up.

Behram Abduweli (R) of China vies with Hirakawa Yu of Japan during the Group B football match between China and Japan of AFC U23 Asian Cup Qatar 2024 at Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Doha, Qatar, on April 16, 2024. (Photo by Nikku/Xinhua)

Earlier last month, four Xinjiang players including Abduweli represented China at the U23 Asian Cup, marking another milestone for the region after the Xinjiang U20 men's team reached the football final at China's National Games for the first time in 2021.

A number of young talents in the Chinese Super League now hail from Xinjiang Song Qingling Football School. Established in 2002, the academy has gained the reputation of being Xinjiang's equivalent of Barcelona's famed La Masia academy.

Nebijan Muhmet, currently playing for Beijing Guoan FC, is a product of the Xinjiang Song Qingling Football School, which is overseen by the Xinjiang Sports Bureau. At the age of 11, Nebijan bade farewell to his family in Turpan and joined the Urumqi-based football academy, embarking on his football career.

"The school has provided us with tremendous support, including daily necessities and excellent equipment. Without this school, I might not have come this far," expressed the midfielder.

Nebijan Muhmet (R) of Beijing Guoan FC vies with Zhou Xin of Shenzhen FC during a Chinese Football Association Super League (CSL) match between Beijing Guoan FC and Shenzhen FC, in Beijing, capital of China, July 8, 2023. (Xinhua/Wang Lili)

Official data revealed that in 2023 alone, Xinjiang built 247 new football fields. Xu Ming, Chairman of the Xinjiang Football Association, shared his ambitious plans for the future development of football.

"Our goal is to achieve over one million regular participants in football activities and cultivate over 10,000 registered players," said Xu.

A growing number of professional coaches also went to this land of football passion, providing more advanced training for the players.

Former Real Madrid youth coach Fernando Sanchez Cipitria returned to Xinjiang for a second stint this year. In 2018, during his first journey, he frequently traveled through cities and villages to scout local football talent.

Young players train at Xinjiang Song Qingling Football School in Urumqi, northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, June 26, 2015. (Xinhua/Wang Fei)

"Everything here feels so familiar, it feels like coming home," he remarked. "Xinjiang's young talents are always full of ambition and confidence. They need a platform to chase their dreams."

Despite the rarity of Spaniards working here, Fernando has earned trust and respect, affectionately known as "Old Fei."

"Just like building a house, you must start with a solid foundation. I hope more young people here can get involved in football, enjoy the sport, and grow through it," he said.


Over 1,000 kilometers away, Alixr Omar is vying for a spot in the men's 400 meters at the Paris Olympics. Having turned 18 this month, the Uygur runner has broken the national 400-meter indoor record twice.

A few years ago, he was still a middle school student when the local sports department discovered his potential through a project called "Big Heart," which aimed to scout talent across Xinjiang's sub-alpine and alpine regions.

Following his decision to pursue a career in athletics, his coach, Zhang Yang, devised a ten-year development plan for him, sending him to Germany for advanced training.

"At different stages, we have different goals. We hope he can gradually unlock his potential, but it requires our collective effort," Zhang explained.

Alixr revealed that he wanted to become the next Su Bingtian, the country's top sprinter. "I believe I can achieve my goal."

Alixr Omar of Xinjiang competes during the men's 400m final at the Chinese National Indoor Athletics Championships 2024 in north China's Tianjin Municipality, March 31, 2024. (Xinhua/Li Ran)

In May and June, Xinjiang is a hot spot for motorsport. Now, competitors from across China, as well as from the United States, France and Mongolia, are testing their mettle in one of Asia's most challenging motorsport events -- Taklimakan Rally.

Originally initiated by automotive enthusiasts, the rally has steadily evolved over the past two decades and has now officially become part of the FIA's 2024 sporting calendar.

"Becoming an international event has always been our goal since we founded it," said Du Jing, general manager from the organizers. "In the future, we hope to attract participants from even more countries."

This ever-growing rally has also allowed Chinese drivers to hone their skills and achieve their dreams on the global stage.

Zakr Yaqup has competed in Taklimakan Rally 10 times, making history in the 2021 Dakar Rally by finishing 33rd overall in motorcycle group, the highest ranking ever achieved by a Chinese rider.

"I fulfilled my dream of representing China in the world's top rally, this wouldn't have been possible without the experience I gained from the Taklimakan Rally," he expressed, "You could say I've grown as a rider alongside this rally."

(Web editor: Zhang Kaiwei, Zhong Wenxing)


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