XIVAL Kicks Back

Article by Xianease

June 3rd was just like any summery day in Xi’an: dry, partly cloudy and about ten degrees too hot to be comfortable. However, the heat outside couldn’t compare to the heated discussion going on inside Bantoo, a South African restaurant in Gaoxin. It was the evening of the Xi’an International Varsity League (XIVAL) awards ceremony, and, while it was already clear who had won their inaugural tournament, the individual awards weren’t quite as clear-cut. Johnson Mugwagwa, the creator and league manager, sits at a table with two team captains who are frantically searching through their phones. Both claimed that one of their players was the top goal scorer, and had box scores and stats to prove it.

1This was just the latest showing of passion from the participants of XIVAL, who lit up pitches across the city this past spring with their amazingly entertaining brand of football. That passion on and off the field is the main draw, but it’s underpinned by a sturdy framework of community. Johnson’s idea from the start was to bring the various and many foreign student communities together through sport, but he couldn’t accomplish that alone. In his spare time, he networked with influential community leaders at different universities, who shared his enthusiasm for starting such a program. These leaders would eventually recruit players for what would become the first XIVAL teams.

Planning for the first season was not without a couple of hiccups. First and foremost was the question of where they would play. “We had limited options on where to play,” Johnson explains. “We concluded that since the participating teams are from universities, it would be more convenient to use our university grounds to minimize costs and create that zeal of home and away fixtures.” The biggest challenge, however, was trying to raise enough money to ensure that the league could run optimally. Sponsors were not quick to jump on the bandwagon, so much of the league’s costs trickled down to the teams. For their fees, each team received a full kit, and the remaining balance was put into a pool that would fund prize money and awards.

Though fees would get less significant for an individual team as more teams signed on, having only five teams did mean that was money was in the league’s coffers had to be stretched. This manifested most significantly in the officiating. “Due to limited funds we could not afford to hire trained referees for the games and had to resort to using players from other teams to officiate the games,” Johnson says. “This always brought about mixed feelings from the playing teams and proved to be a huge challenge.”

Despite that, the first season went off mostly without a hitch. Johnson, for his part, says that all of the effort was worth it just to see his team, Chang’an University ISU take the field for the first time. “It was a team made up of young players and the majority were freshmen. I didn’t know whether the team was going to deliver or not, but the way the boys played with great spirit and teamwork it uplifted my hope and gave me the drive to go on with the initiative we had created.”

2Indeed, Johnson’s drive remains strong and he has high hopes for the organization’s future. First on the docket is to find sponsors, as he finds that, in a league composed of students, many potential players find the fees too burdensome. He also hopes to decentralize management of the league and form a ruling committee, which he says will allow XIVAL to broaden their outreach and increase participation from other universities. Eventually, he wants to include other sports, such as basketball and cricket, under the league’s umbrella. But for now, he’s focused on the autumn football season, when XIVAL will again grace some of Xi’an’s many university pitches, living proof of what can be accomplished in this city with a bit of grassroots organization and the passion to follow through with your ideas.

Anyone interested in sponsoring or participating in XIVAL is encouraged to contact Johnson at kurainashe@hotmail.com or on WeChat at kry_johnson. If you’re interested in just being a spectator, the new season begins the third week of September, so you can follow Xianease for kickoff times.