Alisports, the sports arm of e-commerce giant Alibaba, is to invest $100 million in Chinese rugby over the next 10 years as part of an initiative to make the world’s most populous nation a force in the game, World Rugby said on Wednesday.
The initiative aims to establish professional men’s and women’s leagues, a national sevens programme as well as attract and retain a million new players over the next five years through World Rugby’s “Get Into Rugby” project.
“World Rugby’s strategic mission is to grow the global rugby family. China is central to that mission,” World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper said at a ceremony in Shanghai.
“We are confident that we can build a strong and sustainable platform from which to ensure that China is in the best-possible position to become a major force on the international stage.”
The target is to run the “Get Into Rugby” programme at 10,000 universities and schools in 20 provinces, World Rugby said.
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Other strands of the ambitious strategy include the training of 30,000 coaches and 15,000 match officials over the next four years.
World Rugby and Alisports signed a 10-year deal in April to increase playing numbers and bring major events to China.
“Rugby is a great Olympic team sport with strong values, which is why we are so excited about its undoubted potential in China,” Alisports chief executive Zhang Dazhong said.
“With the support of World Rugby and a strong strategic plan, we believe that rugby in China will take off as an attractive, inclusive mass-participation sport of sportsmanship and character.”
The projected investment in the “olive ball game”, as it is known in China, is a far cry from the days before it became an Olympic sport in 2009 when it was run on a shoestring out of the China Agricultural University in Beijing.
The university provided a 500,000 yuan ($73,868.34) annual grant for two decades which, along with bits and pieces of sponsorship, allowed the organisation of a national team and a basic sevens programme.
Chinese companies have invested billions of dollars in football and other sports over the last couple of years as the country looks to become a dominant force in the sports business industry.