China aims to be global rugby superpower

It’s being reported that China is to host the richest ever rugby sevens tournament, with the top eight finishers from the 2016-17 World Rugby Sevens Series to fight it out in the “Champion of Champions” in Shanghai in October.  The tournament, which is a similar concept to the eight-player ATP Finals in tennis, is part of a push to grow rugby in the country and it is hoped having the likes of Fiji, South Africa and New Zealand strut their stuff will help put the relatively unknown sport on the map.

“On October 20 or late October, we will invite eight teams with the best records to Shanghai,” said Alisports vice president Wei Quanming. “[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 sizable amount of fans from their home countries.”

In such a packed rugby calendar, is this truly a case of money talking over player welfare?

Earlier in the year, when discussing the possibility of the tournament, World Rugby chief Brett Gosper said it would feature the “highest ever prize money we have seen in sevens”.

Alisports will host the tournament and is leading the charge as far as popularising rugby in China. Last October, the company invested US$100 million over 10 years with the aim of attracting a million new players within five years.

The company is planning the Champion of Champions tournament along with World Rugby and the Chinese Rugby Football Association (CRFA) and Wei said China’s national team will also be invited.

China’s men’s team is very much a work in progress but a chance to lock horns with the best eight teams in the world is an opportunity fellow developing sides, such as Hong Kong, would kill for.

The ultimate goal for China is to host a Rugby World Cup and plans are in place to launch a professional 15-a-side league featuring foreign players as soon as next year.

Could World Rugby really ignore bringing rugby to the masses in China…so watch this space for a potential World Cup bid in the late 2020’s