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Hong Kong Sevens

China has 30 million rugby fans – No.1 in the world alongside the USA, says World Rugby

That figure could explode if their women win a medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, says top official Brett Gosper

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 April, 2018, 2:08pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 April, 2018, 10:55pm

China is among the world’s top countries when it comes to the popularity of rugby union with a fanbase of around 30 million, World Rugby said – and that figure could explode if the women’s sevens team win a medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Brett Gosper, CEO of the global governing body, said China and the United States lead the way in terms of rugby fanbase, both with 30 million people either interested or very interested in the game. There is also a strong following in India and Japan.

“It’s interesting to know that the largest number of fans in any single market is actually China, with 30 million rugby fans that we consider interested and very interested in rugby,” said Gosper during the Hong Kong Sevens week. “There are 30 million in the USA, 25 million in India and 15 million in Japan.

“We measure this through research and so on. It’s a good indicator, obviously it is not a precise tool but it gives an indication of emerging markets for us.

“And all of those markets are in certainly a fan growth phase and we’re seeing high participation growth, which is 8.5 million. This is double since 2009, so the sport is in a pretty healthy state.”

The Chinese women surprised everyone at the Hong Kong Sevens last week when they won the women’s World Series Qualifier competition, beating a strong South Africa in the final.

The victory means China will play in next season’s women’s World Series, exposing them to regular competition with the top teams on the planet.

The experience should help the squad improve further in the lead-up to the Tokyo Olympics. Sevens rugby made its debut at the 2016 Rio Olympics with Australia winning women’s gold and Fiji taking the men’s competition.

“It all helps if they [China] do well,” said Gosper. “At the end of the day, if we have a Chinese women’s team winning a medal at the Tokyo Olympics certainly it will have more than a ripple effect. 

“They are a very strong side capable of getting to the medals, I think, in Tokyo. They’ve got a lot of work to do but it’s possible.”

Two years ago, World Rugby announced an initiative by Alisport – the sporting arm of Alibaba, owner of the South China Morning Post – to invest US$100 million into the development of rugby in China, although Gosper said that programme is on hold until World Rugby officials meet the mainland’s new rugby leadership in May.

Gosper said rugby’s fanbase around the world is around 338 million and it increases significantly after the Olympics and the Rugby World Cup, the next edition of which will be in Japan in 2019.

“Our fanbase grows substantially with two major events,” said Gosper. “The Rugby World Cup and the Olympic Games each add about 10 per cent to our fanbase.

“We have an uptick of about 30 million with just six days of the Olympics and six weeks in the World Cup. It’s a very similar uptick in numbers but the Olympics tend to draw in populations that we’re not used to seeing in the rugby franchise so much, so it is bringing in a very different and new geographical audience which is interesting.”