Rugby Union’s global expansion is set to continue as news released this week of a lucrative agreement in China between Alisports and World Rugby which is aimed at promoting and expanding the presence of the sport in the country with the goal of producing one million players over the next ten years.
After the news broke last week that the United States of America is taking steps in it’s efforts to establish itself as a rugby playing nation with the unveiling of its new ‘PRO’ rugby domestic league, China now are making similar end-roads as a significant investment is to be made in order to develop the game in the mainland.
Zhang Dazhong, CEO of Alisports, signed the agreement with World Rugby chairman Bernard Lapasset and chief executive Brett Gosper in which the sports arm of e-commerce giant Alibaba will pump in millions of dollars into the development of the sport in China.
“We hope to have one million players in 10 years time,” said Zhang. “With one million players it is easier to become a world-class rugby nation.”
The move is seen as a huge investment in Rugby in China by the conglomerate as Alisports is set to become an official partner of World Rugby, while also gaining broadcasting rights of Rugby events and becoming involved in the development of the game in China from grassroots level in establishing a league competition and attracting major rugby tournaments to the country.
One of Alibaba’s predominant strengths in securing this deal is it’s access to over 400 million customers, and according to Gosper, it is a major breakthrough for World Rugby’s attempts to spark growth in China.
“It’s hugely significant for us, this partnership,” he said. “It will rapidly accelerate development at grassroots level in China and we will help condition China to host events on our calendar and provide a pathway for their players to play in the Olympics, sevens and fifteens.”
Zhang has stated that “10 years will be good enough to produce some good players for China and then we’ll decide if we will have another 10 years with the World Rugby”.
Rugby’s recent increase in global popularity can be alluded to the inclusion of Rugby Sevens in the Olympics as there has been a huge increase in backing in the sport from many of the Olympic superpowers.
It can’t be overstated just how much of a positive impact this inclusion has had, and will have on the health of the game, with millions more people now being exposed to the sport.