Official predicts explosion of interest as all 31 provinces would take up the game China is getting ready for its next great leap forward - if rugby gains the approval of the members of the International Olympic Committee when it meets early next month in Singapore to decide which sports will be included in the 2012 games. 'There will be a huge explosion in the growth and standards of the game across the whole country if rugby becomes an Olympic sport because all the provinces will need to have a team to play in our National Games,' said Xhong Min, a senior Chinese Rugby Football Union official, yesterday. Five sports - rugby sevens, golf, roller sports, karate and squash - are in the running to become medal sports at the 2012 Olympics. The IOC's 117th session in Singapore from July 3-9 will first vote on the existing 28 summer sports and if any fail to get the required 50 per cent they will be removed from the programme and the vacancy filled by any of the five sports which gets the nod. 'I think rugby has a good chance. But the question is will any of the existing sports be voted out. It is hard to say. But I hope rugby can become an Olympic sport because the fate of the sport on the mainland depends on it,' said Xhong. According to Xhong, every Olympic sport was automatically added to the quadrennial Chinese National Games programme and contested on a provincial scale. As such, all 31 provinces on the mainland would have to field a rugby team. 'There will be very big changes in rugby in China if it becomes an Olympic sport. All the provinces will need to field teams and there will be more support financially from the government for rugby,' said Xhong, the deputy secretary general of the CRFU. 'It won't be for the National Games this year, but for the next one in four years' time.' China, which became a member of the International Rugby Board (IRB) in 1997, has 30 men's teams, mainly based in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangdong and Shenyang. 'At the moment we have about 1,000 players in 30 teams. We also have 10 junior teams and four women's teams. If rugby wins the vote in Singapore next month, we can double this number quickly,' Xhong said. More importantly, the standard of rugby would also sky-rocket, according to Xhong. He said with increased spending from the government at both state and provincial levels, players would be able to devote more time to rugby. 'All the players now are amateurs and mostly students who cannot spend too much time on rugby. But if it is an Olympic sport, there will be more support for them from the government and they will be able to spend more time on training,' said Xhong. The IRB's regional development manager for Asia, Jarrad Gallagher, said the world governing body was excited at the prospect of an imminent rugby boom in the mainland. 'At the moment there is a very positive mood in China that rugby will become an Olympic sport. Already, rugby has been included as a sport in the country's winter programme, which is mainly for Olympic sports. One hundred players were yanked out of school last time and spent four weeks training and learning about rugby,' revealed Gallagher. 'The prospect of rugby taking off across all the provinces is mind-boggling, if not a bit scary as we don't have the resources at the moment to provide for coaches and other support staff,' admitted Gallagher. When China was admitted to the IRB in March 1997 - at a ceremony at the Hong Kong Football Club - then IRB chairman Vernon Pugh told the South China Morning Post that he had high hopes for the mainland becoming a rugby superpower in 20 years' time when the 2019 World Cup came around. Those hopes could receive a huge boost next month if the IOC opens its doors to rugby sevens. 'Sevens is already a medal sport at the Asian Games. But for it to really take off in China, we need it to be an Olympic sport,' said Xhong.