Do you know in which country is located the biggest rugby fanbase in the world? Your guess would probably be one of the biggest nations such as France, or maybe Australia. And you would be wrong, it is China and the USA, followed by India and then France.
Where does China stand in the continental development?
With 33 million fans in each of these countries, they are tied for the number 1 spot. The scale is different since China has a huge population and 33 million out of 1,4 billion is not as impressive as the US numbers. But the difference here is that the USA Eagles are already a pretty good team, qualified for the rugby world cup, and really improving towards the elite of rugby. For China, let’s have an overview and see where is Chinese rugby in its development, and see the huge potential for the sport to develop there.
Let’s start by saying that China and Asia, in general, is one the very fastest developing fanbases around the world. Japan is still the leader, thanks to their great 2015 World Cup campaign in which they beat the Springboks and the fact that they host the World Cup this year and also Hong Kong who almost qualified for the next World Cup. China is not yet playing anywhere near this level, the men’s team is, in fact, ranked 87 on World rugby’s ranking and the women team is performing better as they are ranked 25.
But that leaves a lot of room for improvement and the least to say is that some persons already understand the potential for rugby in China. Among these persons, there is Alisports and World Rugby who signed a deal in 2016 to invest 100 million US dollars into Chinese rugby with the goal to develop 1 million new players in the country within 10 years.
A bright future ahead
Some of this money is also supposed to be invested to introduce the game into universities, to recruit around 30 000 coaches who know the game well and to launch a nationwide advertising campaign with the help of the digital tools of Alibaba. For the moment, the project has been put on hold and might never be completed but this shows that the interest is here and a different project will be done if this one fails to launch. It’s only a matter of time until it gets all over China.
With the 2019 World Cup is surely going to raise interest in China even though it is being held in Japan. The trophy has been taken on tours around the whole continent, including China. It was taken in different places around the mainland such as Beijing, the Great Wall of China, and different school and universities to promote the sport. Brett Gosper, CEO of World Rugby, said that having the Webb-Ellis cup on the Great Wall is a fantastic symbol. Independently from Alisports, World Rugby is investing on its own to develop the sport in Asia, with the program Impact Beyond 2019, a continent-wide project to attract from 500 000 to 1 million new players.
All these elements combined show that the question with rugby in China is not that is rugby is ever going to be popular there, but when. Their humongous population combined with their investment mentality are huge assets, and things should happen very soon to welcome a new powerhouse rugby nation to challenge the mighty New Zealand All Blacks and eventually win a world cup.