China set to host richest sevens rugby tournament

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On my recent visit to Hong Kong I got wind of a 7s tournament that’s being planned for China. If it becomes a reality it will be the richest ever rugby sevens tournament.

The idea behind the tournament is to invite the top eight teams from the 2016-17 World Rugby Sevens Series to Shanghai in October this year.

The tournament, which will be a similar concept to the eight-player ATP Finals in tennis, is part of a push to grow rugby in the country and it is hoped having the likes of Fiji, South Africa and New Zealand strut their stuff will help put the relatively unknown sport on the map. “We will invite eight teams with the best records to Shanghai in October,” said Alisports vice president Wei Quanming. The venue will be in Yangpu district.”

“This will be our first time hosting such a game. I think the eight countries will bring a sizable amount of fans from their home countries.”

Earlier in the year, when discussing the possibility of the tournament, World Rugby chief Brett Gosper said it would feature the “highest ever prize money we have seen in sevens”.

Alisports – the sports division of e-commerce giant. Alibaba, owner of the South China Morning Post – will host the tournament and is leading the charge as far as popularising rugby in China.

Jody with the Blitzbokke captain and coach

World Rugby chief Brett Gosper is eager to grow the game in China. Last October, the company invested US$100 million over 10 years with the aim of attracting a million new players within five years.
The company is planning the Champion of Champions tournament along with World Rugby and the Chinese Rugby Football Association (CRFA) and Wei said China’s national team will also be invited.

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China’s men’s team is very much a work in progress but a chance to lock horns with the best eight teams in the world is an opportunity fellow developing sides, such as Hong Kong, would kill for.

According to Wei, Alisports, which is engaged in a long-term partnership with the CRFA, will remain focused on growing the sport from the ground up despite leading off with a world-class tournament:
“Our main focus is still to develop home-grown stars.”

China’s Jiang Liwei takes on two Japan players in the 2016 Asia Rugby Sevens Series. Photo: Felix Wong
The ultimate goal for China is to host a Rugby World Cup and plans are in place to launch a professional 15-a-side league featuring foreign players as soon as next year. While China has less than 2,000 rugby players, Wei believes the sport will catch on and knows it is important to capitalise on the interest created by the 2019 World Cup and the 2020 Olympics, both to be held in Japan.

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“People are still unfamiliar with the sport,” he said. “For example, they have a hard time telling the difference between American Football and rugby. “The two terms shares the same translation in Chinese. They are both gan lan qiu.”

With The Blitzbokke being the current World Champions I contacted SA Rugby one of their communications managers confirmed he was a aware of the rumours about the tournament but that the Blitzbokke to date had not received an official invite.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Shanghai set to host richest sevens tournament