Shanghai is set to host a new rugby sevens event in October as part of plans to further raise the profile of the sport in China.
The South China Morning Post newspaper reported that the event – dubbed the richest ever rugby sevens tournament – would be contested by the top eight teams from the 2016-17 World Rugby Sevens Series.
The ‘Champion of Champions’ event will be hosted by the Alisports division of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba. The announcement comes on the back of an agreement signed last October between Alisports and World Rugby involving a major 10-year investment programme worth $100m (€87m) in a bid to propel China into a significant player in the global rugby union market.
The Morning Post’s report added that Alisports would organise the event in cooperation with World Rugby and the Chinese Rugby Football Association (CRFA). China’s national team will also be invited to compete alongside the eight teams from the World Rugby Sevens Series.
Alisports vice-president Wei Quanming told the Morning Post: “On October 20 or late October, we will invite eight teams with the best records to Shanghai. (The venue) will be in Yangpu district.
“This will be our first time hosting such a game. I think the eight countries will bring a sizeable amount of fans from their home countries.”
There are currently fewer than 2,000 rugby players in China but it is hoped Alisports’ partnership with World Rugby will help increase participation levels and drive national team performance.
The partnership will also result in China’s first professional men’s and women’s 15 leagues being launched, as well as national sevens programmes. World Rugby’s Get into Rugby mass participation is also being run in 10,000 universities and schools in 20 provinces with the target of attracting and retaining one million new players over the first five years of the partnership.
Regarding Alisports’ rugby drive, Wei added: “People are still unfamiliar with the sport. For example, they have a hard time telling the difference between American football and rugby. The two terms share the same translation in Chinese. They are both gan lan qiu.”