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Hong Kong Sevens

What’s to become of US$100m? World Rugby’s Brett Gosper meets China officials but no word on Alisports investment

The programme to develop the sport in the mainland over 10 years was put on hold because of governance changes in China

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 May, 2018, 3:51pm
UPDATED : Monday, 28 May, 2018, 10:53pm

The future of Alisports’ US$100 million investment in Chinese rugby is still unclear, with the world governing body only saying it would continue to support development on the mainland after a visit to Beijing last week.

World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper met officials of the Chinese Rugby Football Association and the mainland’s Multi Ball Sports Administration at the Beijing Sports University.

After the meeting, Gosper tweeted: “Recent governance change for rugby in China was discussed today with Chinese Rugby Football Association and the Multi Ball Sports Administration. @WorldRugby will give full support to ensure continued growth of rugby in the world’s most populous nation.”

When asked about the Alisport investment, World Rugby said it was unable to comment at this stage.

The programme was launched in Hong Kong in April 2016 with Alisports – the sports division of Alibaba, which is the parent company of South China Morning Post – planning to introduce rugby to 10,000 schools and universities in a bid to produce one million new players over 10 years.

However, at April’s Hong Kong Sevens, Gosper said the project had been temporarily halted as World Rugby assessed the aftermath of major changes in China sports governance.

China’s rugby governing body was one of the associations affected by sports minister Gou Zhongwen’s decision to introduce changes in governance, which meant World Rugby would have to deal with new officials.

Gosper admitted in April that progress in Alisports’ project had been slow.

“We signed an agreement with Alisports to work on developing rugby at grassroots level but also working on staging competitions in sevens and 15s, for men and women. That was the intention,” he said at the time.

“I’d have to say it’s been slow progress, the partnership. It’s slower than we would have liked. Things aren’t easy and rapid in China as we would have liked in the areas we are dealing with.

“It’s been slowed down recently by a change in the government’s administrative approach in China and what we have done is put [this programme] on hold for a month or two until we get clarity on who is leading rugby in China.”

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The meeting last week was aimed at achieving that clarity though World Rugby has yet to reveal details.

The Alisports programme is also aiming to recruit and train 30,000 coaches and 15,000 match officials by 2020, while the company’s digital arm intends to launch a nationwide marketing programme and broadcast rugby on its TV and digital channels.

Gosper tweeted that rugby’s inclusion in the Olympics means the sport will gain greater recognition by the Chinese government.

US$100 million on hold: World Rugby suspends China programme over governance changes

“In just a short visit to the only summer and winter @Olympics city; Beijing, it is clear that the benefits of being an Olympic sport in China are immeasurable for rugby,” he tweeted.

China has made strong progress in women’s rugby with the national sevens team advancing to the World Series by winning the qualifying event at the Hong Kong Sevens.