A village volleyball tournament is held in Hainan province. (Photos provided to chinadaily.com.cn)
With its passionate rivalries, village volleyball in Hainan province is drawing enthusiastic crowds of spectators and providing a boost to the local tourism industry.
Together with well-attended basketball and soccer competitions in villages across China, the volleyball games are indicative of the wider trend of rural sports events, turning ordinary villages into new attractions for travelers.
The 2023 Hainan Township Volleyball League Wenchang series saw 20 township teams compete in 52 games over 45 days, with the final played on Sunday evening. The players were amateurs, including farmers, fishermen and students, aged between 15 and 59.
"I've never seen such a thrilling volleyball game. The court was full of people. The atmosphere was so good, it's like attending a concert," said a spectator surnamed Wang.
"It's not just a volleyball tournament, but also a stage where enthusiasm, dreams and cultures come together," said Wenchang vice-mayor Ke Peng.
Wenchang, dubbed one of the hometowns of volleyball in China, loves the sport.
"In Wenchang, almost all villages have volleyball courts, and they often host friendly matches. All my friends enjoy playing volleyball," said Shi Rongwen, 24, a middle blocker for the Wenchang Puqian volleyball team.
Shi was pleased to see the tournament become so big this year, and believes that the series can attract people from all over China, and even overseas, to participate in the future.
Many overseas Chinese who are originally from Wenchang watched live broadcasts of the games on social media.
Zhang Hong, who lives in Thailand, invited her 12-year-old son Xie Yuyao to watch each game online. She even taught him how to cheer in the Hainan dialect. Zhang said when they saw exciting moments, they would shout "Hiang", meaning wonderful.
Lin Qiuya, president of the Federation of Hainan Association Malaysia, watched the series in Wenchang. "I can tell the public really celebrate the spirit of volleyball," Lin said.
Li Shijie, president of the Hainan Institute of Open Economic System, said the popularity of village volleyball reflects people's strong demand for cultural life in rural areas.
"Sports culture is indispensable in rural vitalization. It enables the public to have physical and mental health and brings vitality to local development," Li said.
Since June, the series has attracted more than 400,000 spectators and generated tourism revenue of 260 million yuan ($35.9 million), according to government statistics.
"Although many people come for the volleyball, Wenchang's cuisine, fishing industry and intangible cultural heritage have also been noticed," Shi said.
Lin, from the Hainan association in Malaysia, said: "This is a successful example of cultural, sports and tourism integration. More people will visit this beautiful hometown of volleyball, experience its volleyball culture, and support the development of Wenchang."
Shen Qiong, head coach of the Shanghai professional men's volleyball team, suggested the series be held every year and become an intellectual property with Wenchang characteristics.
"If teams from outside the island come and participate, then it will have greater influence," he said.
Wenchang aims to develop the sport of volleyball into a major sports brand in China, and it plans to hold the first Hainan (Wenchang) Nine-Player Volleyball Classic in September. Teams from across the country, including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong province, will be invited to take part, said Bao Guangyu, director of the city's tourism and sports bureau.
China has been actively promoting sports culture in rural areas, stimulating public interest and attracting national attention. The Village Super League of soccer, or cunchao, and Village Basketball Association, or cun BA, are the latest rural sports to attract spectators from both home and abroad.