• Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. will promote rugby in mainland China as part of the agreement it signed with World Rugby on April 10.

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. will promote rugby in mainland China as part of the agreement it signed with World Rugby on April 10. (Photo : Reuters)

An agreement that will give exclusive broadcasting rights and promote rugby in China has been signed on Sunday, April 10, by e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. through its new sport division, Alisports, and World Rugby, the sport’s global governing body.

China Daily reported that the announcement was made during the annual Hong Kong Sevens, a premier seven-a-side tournament.

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To make rugby popular in China, Alisports said it plans to invest millions of dollars and make a long-term investment in the sport.

Alisports said that under the agreement, it hopes to train and develop at least one million rugby players in the country in the next 10 years, as well as promote the sport by hosting more international rugby events.

"We encourage young people to join rugby, a sport that cultivates teamwork and strong will," Zhang Dazhong, chief executive of Alisports, said. "We hope that more Chinese sports fans, especially kids, will love this aggressive sport and explore their own values through teamwork. We wish to promote the growth of rugby sport in China at all levels."

Still in its initial stages of development in mainland China, rugby is not popular, and compared with other sports, it has a much lower profile. Latest statistics of the Chinese Rugby Football Association showed that there are currently 1,337 registered rugby players in China.

Rugby events are held in seven cities in the mainland including Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Shenyang and Yantai, and involve mainly professional players from sports schools.

Bernard Lapasset, chairman of World Rugby, said, "This deal will ensure an unprecedented platform for rugby to reach, engage and inspire new participants across China."

Lapasset expressed that the agreement will bring new development to rugby, which is now played by nearly 8 million people globally. He said he is expecting that more Chinese people will play rugby in the future.

According to the report, the agreement is part of Alibaba founder Jack Ma's latest investment in the sports industry as well as in the booming Chinese football market.

Through Alisports' media platforms such as Youku Tudou Inc., the company will be able to present rugby events, organize more competitions and broadcast games from World Rugby. It can also take advantage of Alibaba's resources as an e-commerce giant to help World Rugby promote and sell its products.

Zhang Zhiqiang, a former captain of the Chinese men's national rugby team and currently a physical education teacher at China Agriculture University, said: "English rugby has been developed in China for 26 years, but the sport only grows within a small circle. It has not been well-combined with society and business operations."

He added: "The growth of rugby suffered a setback in China due to a lack of high-level coaches, referees and imperfect management mechanisms. The new cooperation between Alisports and World Rugby is definitely good news for the further development of rugby sport."