A rugby ball is kicked during a rugby match on March 19, 2016, in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Photo : Getty Images)
China's e-commerce giant Alibaba will invest $100 million over the next 10 years through its sports subsidiary in a campaign to popularize rugby in China, World Rugby announced on Wednesday.
The money will be funneled through Alibaba's Alisports division and used to finance the first professional rugby leagues for men and women, as well as national sevens programmers, according to a report from The South China Morning Post on Friday.
A massive mass participation program will be launched in 10,000 universities and schools with the goal of attracting one million new players in the next five years along with development programs aimed at recruiting and training 30,000 coaches and 15,000 match officials by 2020, the report said.
The company will also launch a nationwide marketing program and broadcast rugby matches 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," Zhang added.
The statement said the company is pushing for recognition of its school-based programs by China's Education Bureau.
The Chinese government has launched a nationwide campaign to increase sporting participation at all levels, and private companies are rushing to get involved.
Rugby is seen as a sport with a huge potential in Asia, especially after its inclusion in the Olympic Games.
"World Rugby's strategic mission is to grow the global rugby family," World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper said in a 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."
Gosper said China is "in the best possible position" to become a competitive force in international matches with a potential for strong men's and women's teams, sustainable leagues, and the capability to hose major rugby events.
According to World Rugby, China has seen an increase of 40 percent in participation in rugby matches in the past year with 76,000 players.