Rugby can rival football in China says chief

Fri, 07 Apr 2017 07:29
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IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Rugby can grow from a niche sport to be as big as football in China and eventually rival the cash-rich Chinese Super League in popularity, the head of the sport in the world's most populous nation said.

Wang Liwei, head of the Chinese Rugby Football Association, said China's President Xi Jinping was a rugby fan and Beijing had thrown its weight behind the drive to popularise what is known as the 'olive ball game'.

Although China has only a small number of players, an e-commerce giant plans to plough $100 million into rugby over the next decade, setting up professional men's and women's leagues and expanding the playing base to one million in just five years.

Wang, speaking through an interpreter at this week's Hong Kong 10s, where China's CRFA Gladiators were competing, admitted it would take "years" to build rugby in China, but he said there was great potential. 

"We are still at the initial stage. We hope... we can make rugby more popular in China - of course as big as the Super League," said Wang.

A top-level push to turn China into a football superpower has prompted massive investment by the country's clubs and conglomerates, attracting elite players and coaches.

Whether rugby, which lacks football's traditional following and club structure in China, can tread a similar path is open to question.

The country of 1.3 billion has just 1 000 registered players and rugby will face competition from other sports, including American football's NFL, which are also trying to establish themselves in China.

Wang said China would make fast-paced rugby Sevens a "priority" after its successful inclusion in the Olympics, although the Chinese failed to qualify for the event at last year's Rio Games.

China are also absent from this week's Hong Kong Sevens, but Wang said China would host a series of sevens competitions this year in cities including Shenzhen, which sits on the border with semi-autonomous Hong Kong. 

Despite the emphasis on Sevens, Wang insisted China would not "give up" on the XVs version of the game, adding: "We will learn from other countries to set up professional XVs clubs." 

But he admitted there was no firm deadline for establishing a men's professional XVs league, with the CRFA only aiming for at least four clubs from 2018.

China's rugby fanbase is small, Wang said, with foreign fans and university students set to provide the bulk of support.

He said World Rugby's 'Get Into Rugby' project would help build interest among schoolchildren, and hoped that one day, homegrown rugby players would become popular heartthrobs.

Wang said Chinese parents were increasingly willing to let their children play the game, despite concerns about injuries on the field. 

"Even though they maybe have a little concern about the strong confrontation between the players, [parents] hope through the game and competition children can build up the spirit of teamwork and make friends," Wang said. 

China's drive may also get a boost from the 2019 World Cup in Asian neighbour Japan, where rugby has been played for more than a century.

Agence France-Presse

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FIXTURE GMT VENUE
Wed, 31 May 2017
New Zealand U20 v Scotland U20 09h00 AIA Arena
England U20 v Samoa U20 09h00 Tbilisi
South Africa U20 v France U20 11h30 Tbilisi
Ireland U20 v Italy U20 11h30 AIA Arena
Argentina U20 v Georgia U20 14h00 Tbilisi
Australia U20 v Wales U20 14h30 Tbilisi
Fri, 02 June 2017
Blues v Reds 07h35 Auckland
Sat, 03 June 2017
Crusaders v Highlanders 02h35 Christchurch
Chiefs v Waratahs 05h05 Hamilton
NZ Barbarians v B&I Lions 07h35 Toll Stadium
Brumbies v Rebels 09h45 Canberra
Force v Hurricanes 11h35 Perth
Sun, 04 June 2017
Ireland U20 v Scotland U20 09h00 AIA Arena
Argentina U20 v France U20 09h00 Tbilisi
New Zealand U20 v Italy U20 11h30 AIA Arena
Australia U20 v Samoa U20 11h30 Tbilisi
South Africa U20 v Georgia U20 14h00 Tbilisi
England U20 v Wales U20 14h30 Tbilisi
RESULT SCORE
Sun, 28 May 2017
Lions v Kings 54 | 10
Sat, 27 May 2017
Jaguares v Brumbies 15 | 39
Munster v Scarlets 22 | 46
Sharks v Stormers 22 | 10
Wasps v Exeter Chiefs 20 | 23
Bulls v Hurricanes 20 | 34
Rebels v Crusaders 19 | 41
Highlanders v Waratahs 44 | 28
Sunwolves v Cheetahs 7 | 47
Fri, 26 May 2017
Reds v Force 26 | 40
Blues v Chiefs 16 | 16
Sun, 21 May 2017
Waratahs v Rebels 50 | 23
Sat, 20 May 2017
Kings v Brumbies 10 | 19
Munster v Ospreys 23 | 3
Wasps v Leicester Tigers 21 | 20
WORLD CUP
MORE LOGS
Pool A
Team P W D L Pts
Australia 4 4 0 0 17
Wales 4 3 0 1 13
England 4 2 0 2 11
Fiji 4 1 0 3 5
Uruguay 4 0 0 4 0
Pool B
Team P W D L Pts
South Africa 4 3 0 1 16
Scotland 4 3 0 1 14
Japan 4 3 0 1 12
Samoa 4 1 0 3 6
United States 4 0 0 4 0
Pool C
Team P W D L Pts
New Zealand 4 4 0 0 19
Argentina 4 3 0 1 15
Georgia 4 2 0 2 8
Tonga 4 1 0 3 6
Namibia 4 0 0 4 1
Pool D
Team P W D L Pts
Ireland 4 4 0 0 18
France 4 3 0 1 14
Italy 4 2 0 2 10
Romania 4 1 0 3 4
Canada 4 0 0 4 2