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Alibaba’s sports division to pump US$100 million into rugby in China in bid to popularise the game

Alisports is to invest US$100 million over the next 10 years in an effort to popularise rugby in China, World Rugby announced on Wednesday.

The company – the sporting division of e-commerce giant Alibaba – revealed its plans at a launch in Shanghai.

The cash will be used to set up the first professional leagues for men and women, and national sevens programmes.

And a massive mass participation programme will be launched in 10,000 universities and schools in an effort to attract one million new players over five years.

Development programmes aim to recruit and train 30,000 coaches and 15,000 match officials by 2020, while the firm will launch a nationwide marketing programme and broadcast rugby on its TV and digital channels.

“Rugby is a great Olympic team sport with strong values, which is why we are so excited about its undoubted potential in China,” said Zhang Dazhong, CEO of Alisports in a statement issued by World Rugby.

“We have a great partner in World Rugby and together we will work tirelessly to promote the development of rugby in China with a goal of inspiring one million new players in five years.

“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.”

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The statement said the schools programme is set to achieve recognition by China’s Education Bureau.

The country is making a major effort to increase sporting participation at all levels, and businesses have been rushing to get involved.

And rugby is seen as a sport with huge potential in Asia, especially after its inclusion in the Olympics.

“World Rugby’s strategic mission is to grow the global rugby family,” said World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper in the statement.

“China is central to that mission and we are delighted to be announcing further details of our ground-breaking plans in partnership with Alisports and the China Rugby Football Association.

“Driven by a common vision, ambitious but attainable goals and an unprecedented investment programme, 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 programmes and real major event hosting potential.”

According to World Rugby, participation in the sport in China has increased by 40 per cent in the past year with 76,000 players.

Alibaba is the parent company of the South China Morning Post.