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Cow, goats and pigs as prizes: China's farmer version of NBA rivals professional games with carnival atmosphere


There are no big screens, superstars, professional marketing or advertising and yet an outdoor basketball court in rural China has attracted tens of thousands to its matches where the atmosphere rivals America’s National Basketball Association (NBA) games.

The annual basketball event, dubbed by mainland Chinese internet users as Cun BA – Cun meaning village in Mandarin, is held in Taipan Village in Taijiang county in southern China’s Guizhou province.

The event has been held for decades at the village where the basketball competition is part of a traditional Miao ethnic harvest festival during the lunar calendar month of June.

The matches are organised locally by villagers, without any involvement from authorities, state broadcaster CCTV reported.

From July 30 to Aug 2 this year, 16 male teams from across Guizhou province took part in the competition named Guizhou Beautiful Village Basketball League. The players are all amateur, most of them farmers, with only the referees having professional experience. The rules require the players to be at least 22 years old and permanent rural residents in the province.

More than 10,000 people watch the games every evening, which is half of the court’s capacity due to Covid-19 restrictions. The event is also live-streamed on Douyin, with millions watching it online, CCTV reported.

“I’ve brought a stool to stand on to watch the match,” one of the spectators Yang Tianran told CCTV. “I won’t leave my place; otherwise, my spot will be taken by others immediately.”

People often can’t find empty seats on the cement stairs meant for spectators because of the popularity of the matches. Many stand nearby — even climbing onto surrounding hills and rooftops to watch. Others like Yang bring stools and some even bring meals as the event runs from the afternoon till late in the evening.

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Spectators hit water bottles or aluminium basins as they cheer on their favourite teams. During competition breaks, local art troupes perform traditional Miao-style dances as a kind of cheering squad.

One of the players, Yang Changyi, said he works in the daytime and only practises after work.

“Basketball is our hobby. Although we are not professional players, we have a dream in our heart – to demonstrate our basketball capabilities on a bigger stage,” he said.

After 27 matches, this year a team from Liping county won the championship after beating a rival team from Kaili city, with a score of 102 to 85.

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The prize for the champion is a live cow, with two goats as the second prize and two pigs as the third prize. A cow is usually sold at about 3,000 yuan (S$609) on the mainland.

Guizhou is an underdeveloped province in China, with the average annual disposable income for rural residents in Taijiang county being merely 11,159 yuan (US$1,660) last year. The county population is mainly Miao people.

“For basketball matches, people will think of bright basketball gyms, a well-equipped environment and atmospheric cheering squads. But this Cun BA is very down-to-earth, and the matches are organised with local features and in a way widely accepted by the public,” said an editorial by the People’s Daily .

“Age, job or basketball skills is not a criterion for players in Cun BA, but the enthusiasm for basketball is,” the newspaper said.

“I think some players even play better than professional athletes of CBA (Chinese Basketball Association, China’s highest-level basketball league),” one person said on social media platform Bilibili.com.

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“Capital sponsorship is absent from this Cun BA. What we see is just what basketball looks like originally. Please continue to be so pure,” wrote another user.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.



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