Under the Muztagh Ata Peak in the Pamir Plateau, lies the Iksak village of Artux, in the southern part of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Renowned as the “Home of football” along the Silk Road for its century-long football legacy, it has become a place where many children passionate about football chase their dreams. Our reporter Gong Ming has more.
Upon stepping into Iksak village, the pervasive presence of football elements and graffiti immediately conveys the strong football culture that thrives here. Over a century ago, two brothers from this village who studied abroad introduced modern football, making it a household sport in this community. There’s a saying passed down here: “Kids barely walking already kick a ball.”
ZORIYAR Iksak Elementary School football team member “When I was six, I started playing football. My big bro asked me to be the goalie. I did pretty well! Ever since then, I’ve been sticking to being a goalkeeper.”
YIMURAN Iksak Elementary School football team member “My dad taught me how to play football when I was little. I started kicking the ball around with the older guys in our village, and I just fell in love with it.”
These kids are all members of the Iksak Elementary School football team. In recent years, the local government has started emphasizing football education and talent scouting, making football training a distinctive feature of the village’s schools. This school has formed two boys’ teams and one girls’ team so far. With financial support from the government, the school’s sports fields and training facilities have significantly improved.
YUSANJAN EMET Coach of Iksak Elementary School football team “This place used to be just a dirt playground, but now it’s all green. Back then, we didn’t have enough training equipment, but now it’s much better. The kids are more interested and enthusiastic now.”
Even in freezing winter temperatures, the children never miss their twice-daily training sessions. In addition, the school frequently organizes various football competitions. These not only showcase their training achievements and enhance their athletic skills but also serve as opportunities for potential selection into better high schools or football club training programs.
ALIMJAN ADIL PE Teacher of Artux City No.1 High School “We’re targeting the kids from the elementary school football team as our top choice for the high school team. We’re taking them to compete in national school tournaments and invitationals across Xinjiang. Winning first place there could earn players a shot at athlete rankings and certificates based on their performance. This could be beneficial for their future college applications.”
Thanks to local grassroots football programs starting at elementary level, Artux City No.1 High School’s youth football team has won numerous awards nationally and internationally. They’ve also contributed many players to China’s youth national team and professional football clubs, inspiring countless local kids who dream of a future in football.
YIMURAN Iksak Elementary School football team member “My dream is to become a professional football player, join the national team, and score in the World Cup.”
GONG MING Artux, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region “It’s hard not to be moved by the genuine passion that the children here have for football. Thanks to the local government’s increased attention and support in recent years, improvements to football training facilities have made this place a starting point for these football-loving kids to nurture their talents and pursue their dreams. Gong Ming, CGTN, Artux.”