The international rugby federation is set to tackle the Chinese market, supporting a local push to attract one million players over the next five years and create professional leagues.
World Rugby on Wednesday announced a $US100 million ($A130m) commitment by Alisports, a division of e-commerce giant Alibaba, to develop the game in China over the next decade.
“World Rugby’s strategic mission is to grow the global rugby family,” World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper said. “China is central to that mission.
“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 with strong men’s and women’s sevens and 15s teams, sustainable leagues, model development and participation programs and real major event hosting potential.”
Asia is a growth market for rugby union, which went professional in 1995 and has been dominated by New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, England and France at the highest level in the traditional 15-a-side format.
Japan has contributed heavily to the growth on the continent, with a long-established professional set up and growing strength on the international scene. Japan caused one of the biggest upsets ever at a Rugby World Cup by beating two-time champion South Africa last year in England, and will host the 2019 World Cup.
Japan also left its mark on rugby’s return to the Olympics, when it upset New Zealand in the men’s rugby sevens competition in Rio de Janeiro. Fiji won the men’s gold medal – the country’s first ever Olympic medal – and Australia won the women’s gold, the first ever awarded in women’s rugby or in the abbreviated seven-a-side format.