Rugby union in China
|Rugby union in China|
|Country||People's Republic of China|
|Governing body||Chinese Rugby Football Association|
|National team||People's Republic of China|
|First played||Early 20th century|
|Registered players||76,000 |
Rugby union in China is a growing sport; however, it is still not overly popular. China became affiliated to the International Rugby Board in 1997 and as of November 14, 2016, its women's XV side was ranked 24th and its men's XV side 68th in the world. The national team has yet to qualify for a Rugby World Cup. However, China has hopes of one day hosting the event.
- 1 History
- 2 Future
- 3 Rugby Sevens
- 3.1 Within China
- 3.2 China at international level
- 3.2.1 Women's Sevens
- 3.2.2 Men's Sevens
- 4 Rugby XVs
- 5 Efforts to develop rugby
- 6 Super Cup
- 7 Related regions
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 External links
Early rugby union in China was often played by expatriates of various rugby playing nations, and colonials. For example, there was a rugby club in Shanghai, where many of these could be found, and there was also a significant presence in Hong Kong, due to the strong connections with the British Commonwealth. The Shanghai club folded in 1952, and the surplus funds were presented to the English RFU for a "Royal Retiring Room", at Twickenham near London.
In the 1930s and 1940s, rugby is said to have been adopted by Chinese military commanders to instil aggression into troops during the war with Japan.
Later, for a period under Communism, rugby was banned in China, with the national Sports Council stating that "the meeting of sullied bodies in physical contact cannot be approved."
In post-Cultural Revolution days, the relative strength of rugby in Hong Kong has helped reintroduce the sport into the PRC, and the head of the HKRFU George Simkin introduced a development programme there.
Rugby re-emerged in the PRC in 1990, with a club forming at the Beijing Agricultural University (now merged into China Agricultural University) at Beijing. A professor there, Chao Xihuang was introduced to the sport by a Japanese businessman, and set up a couple of sides. Professor Zheng Hongjun is also credited with the early development of rugby in the 1990s.
The growth of the sport has been massive. For example, in 1991, there were a mere 30 registered players in China. By 1996, there were over a thousand instructors alone.
Today, one segment of Chinese society where rugby is particularly popular is the military. Rugby is an official sport of the People's Liberation Army, with the PLA Sports Institute participating in the highly competitive Hong Kong leagues.
Notable Chinese rugby players include Zhang Zhiqiang ("Johnny Zhang"), who had a stint with the famous Leicester Tigers club in England, and promising young speedster Li Yang, who boasts a time of 10.6 seconds in the 100-metre sprint.
Since the beginning of 2000s, China has concerned more of the rugby sevens instead of the 15-men rugby, due to the Olympic strategy.
In October 2016 World Rugby announced that Alisports, a division of e-commerce giant Alibaba was committing $100 million (£81 million) to develop the game over the next decade.
The Chinese government has given its support to the programme and told world Rugby and Alisports to be more ambitious. Initially the plan wanted to target having one million players in the next 10 years. The Chinese government wanted to make it five. The plan also hopes to have 30,000 coaches and 15,000 officials in China by 2020."
A key part of this plan is to make a play for huge events in an effort to inspire people to take up the sport. Negotiations are under way for the country to host rugby's first US$1 million match, as part of an end-of-year sevens tournament that could take place as early as this year. It is also hoped China will bid to host the Rugby World Cup as early as 2027. According to Brett Gosper, chief executive of World Rugby, "we are in the process of discussing a Masters Sevens tournament, which could be held as early as this year. It would be the top eight of the World Series finishers competing for the highest ever prize money we have seen in sevens – like the Barclays ATP Tournament in tennis."
Beginning in 2010, two national championships - two-day sevens' tournaments held in different locations - were held every year. However, in 2015, to help the game gain consistent exposure, the China Rugby Football Association divided the annual Sevens National Championships into four legs held in different cities. As a result, according to Cui Weihong, secretary-general of the China Rugby Football Association, "[t]he sevens' action will keep going from April to November with a series of scheduled events. We hope this intensive exposure will attract interest from sponsors and sports marketing agencies to help establish a professional league in the near future."
Since 2013, the National University Rugby Sevens Championship has been organized annually, with 2015's event attracting 12 male and eight female university teams from across the country.
In a big boost for the sport, Rugby Sevens debuted in the National Games of China in 2013, at the 12th edition of the event, held in 2013 in Liaoning. The coach of the Chinese women's national team, Ben Gollings, said in 2016 that "[t]he biggest [rugby sevens] competition [in China] is the China Games which is played by all the provinces. This has helped start the development of rugby but when it gets into schools we will see the biggest growth."
During the Liaoning tournament, the women's final between Shangdong and Beijing proved controversial when, at the insistence of their coach, Beijing players refused to continue playing, after a try was awarded to Shangdong by the Spanish referee. The Beijing team was subsequently fined and later issued an apology.
China at international level
Rio 2016 DNQ
In November 2015, China qualified for the Final 2016 Women's Olympic Qualification Tournament, an event which would determine the 12th and last team to play at Rio 2016. The tournament took place on 25–26 June 2016 in Ireland. China finished second in its pool, but then lost to Spain in the first play-off match, ending its chance of winning the tournament. It nevertheless went on to beat Samoa and Argentina, to clinch the Plate Final. A video report on the team's preparations for the tournament is available at http://www.worldrugby.org/video/171952
Because Japan qualifies automatically for the Tokyo Sevens tournament, and because China is regularly second to Japan in the Asian Women's Sevens Championship, China has a good chance of participating in the Tokyo Olympics as the highest qualifying Asian team. The 2019 Asia Women's Sevens Championship will likely double as the qualifying tournament, with Kazakhstan and Hong Kong likely to provide the toughest competition.
HSBC World Rugby Women's Sevens Series
Following a qualifying tournament in Hong Kong in September 2014, China became one of the core teams in the 2014-2015. However, it won no pool matches in any of the five events, and finished 11th out of 13 teams, failing to secure automatic core team status for the following season.
In the qualifying tournament in Dublin in August 2015, China lost 27-5 to Ireland in the quarterfinals, so did not gain a place in the main Sevens Series.
In the qualifying tournament in Dublin in June 2016, which doubled as the Final 2016 Women's Olympic Qualification Tournament, China lost to Spain (the eventual winner) in the quarterfinal, so did not gain a place in the main Sevens Series.
In the qualifying tournament in Hong Kong in April 2017, China lost 28-14 to Japan (the eventual winner) in the quarterfinal, so did not gain a place in the main Sevens Series.
Asia Rugby Women's Sevens Series
China participates in the Asian Women's Sevens Championship. It has won the Series five times, most recently in 2014. In September 2016, it lost the final to Japan 14-7.
Rugby Sevens has been contested by women at the Asian Games since 2010. China finished runners-up in 2010 and winners in 2014.
East Asian Games
Rugby Sevens was included in the East Asian Games in 2009 in Hong Kong, and China won the tournament. However, the sport was not retained for the Games in 2013 in Tianjin, reportedly due to budgetary issues, and, in any event, the East Asian Games has now been replaced by an under-18s event.
Rio 2016 DNQ
In November 2015, China attempted to qualify Rio 2016, at the 2015 ARFU Men's Sevens Championships held in Hong Kong. However, it finished fifth, behind Japan (which qualified directly for Rio), and Hong Kong, South Korea and Sri Lanka (which went through to the Final 2016 Men's Olympic Qualification Tournament, which would determine the 12th and last team to play at Rio 2016).
Because Japan qualifies automatically for the Tokyo Sevens tournament, China has a better than normal chance of participating in the Tokyo Olympics. The 2019 Asia Men's Sevens Championship will likely double as the qualifying tournament. Although China (on current form) appears unlikely to win this tournament (in the 2016 Asia Rugby Sevens Series it finished 4th, behind Hong Kong, Sri Lanka and South Korea, but ahead of Rio semi-finalist Japan), if it finishes in the top 4 it will qualify for the 2019 Men's Rugby Sevens Final Olympic Qualification Tournament, from which it could then qualify for Tokyo 2020.
HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series
China has not yet qualified for the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series.
Asian Sevens Series
China has competed in the Asian Sevens Series since it began in 2009. A video of a 2015 match against Thailand is available online. One of the tournaments in the Series is the China Sevens, usually held at Yuanshen Stadium in Shanghai.
Rugby Sevens has been contested by men at the Asian Games since 1998. China's best placing was third in 2006.
Women's and Men's XVs
Rugby XVs does not attract the same level of support as rugby sevens. For example, while the provinces that compete in the National Games of China all have sevens teams, there are no regional XVs sides and no national rugby XV competition. According to the UK newspaper the Daily Telegraph, the decision by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 2009 to introduce rugby sevens to the Olympic Games “has effectively halted the development of 15-a-side rugby in China. Beijing reacted by immediately gearing its national rugby system towards sevens, instructing the universities to focus on the format.”  Zhang Zhiqiang, the former China national side captain, added in 2015 that “[o]ur national system is geared towards an Olympic strategy, and sevens, as one of the Olympic events, gets more attention.” 
In June 2016, the inaugural National Youth 15's tournament was held in Qingdao in association with the Qingdao Sharks Rugby Club, one of the first non-university, non-expat rugby clubs formed in China (in 1998). The event was won by Jinan. The president of the China Rugby Football Union stated that the tournament "bodes well for the development of the 15’s game in China as the event has created a lot of interest in other Provinces to host future 15’s tournaments".
There is currently no professional XV rugby competition within the Chinese mainland. However, it has been reported that a number of east coast clubs are likely to be part of a proposed league run by the Chinese Rugby Football Association beginning in 2018.
There are a number of amateur clubs which compete domestically for the annual All China Rugby Cup. Teams compete in one of four divisions, based on their location (e.g. the North China division or the South China division). At the end of the season, the top finisher in every division qualifies for the All China Rugby Cup. Meanwhile, the second-place team from each division lands in the four-team China Plate Final.
The 2017 All China Rugby Cup was won by the Shanghai Silver Dragons (of the Shanghai Rugby Football Club) against the Guangzhou Rams, 46-16.
The social clubs are dominated by expatriates, including the Shanghai Rugby Football Club, the Beijing Devils, and the Hangzhou Harlequins. The Shanghai and Beijing teams play domestically but also in the Yellow Sea Cup against a team from Seoul, South Korea.
Some clubs have a native-Chinese base (such as Nongda aka the China Agricultural University and the Beijing Flying Horses Rugby Club) or have made significant efforts to reach out to native Chinese (such as the Qingdao Sharks Rugby Club). 
More than 10 universities in China, including the China Agricultural University, Beijing Normal University and South China Agriculture University, have introduced majors in athletic training with rugby as a specialty.
China at international level
The China women's national rugby union team first played in 2006. As of November 14, 2016, China's women's XV side was ranked 24th in the world. However, it does not appear to have played since losing 27-3 to Hong Kong in the 2012 Asian Four Nations Championship.
The China national rugby union team first played in 1997. As of November 14, 2016, China's men's XV side was ranked 68th in the world. Its highest ranking was 37th, which was achieved in the early 2000s. Under the points system used by World Rugby to rank rugby nations, China regularly scored between 46 and 49 points in the period 2003-2009. Since 2010, it has typically scored between 39 and 41 points.
Asian Rugby Championship
Since 2015, the team has been in Division 3 East of the Asian Rugby Championship (previously, the Asian Five Nations), currently alongside Laos, Thailand and Brunei (although both China and Brunei declined to play in the 2016 edition). It has been as high as Division 1, most recently in 2008 when it was grouped with Singapore, Chinese Taipei and Sri Lanka.
China plays in the annual Kublai Khan Cup against Mongolia. In the inaugural match in May 2015, China won 46-19.
In its attempt to qualify for the 2015 Rugby World Cup, China participated in the 2015 Rugby World Cup – Asia qualification, as part of the 2012 Asian Five Nations Division 2. It lost its first match to Malayasia 89-0, and so was eliminated from the qualification process.
China was not eligible to attempt to qualify for the 2019 Rugby World Cup, because only teams in the Top Three (generally Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea), Division 1, and Division 2 of the Asian Rugby Championship can participate in the qualification process.
The People’s Liberation Army XV team represents China in the International Defence Rugby Competition, which is held alongside the Rugby World Cup. It participated in the inaugural 2011 edition, held in New Zealand and Australia. Results included a 59-12 loss to the Tongan Defence Services.   However, it did not appear in the 2015 edition held in England. According to Simon Chadwick, professor of sports enterprise at the University of Salford, "[t]he Chinese armed forces have been playing rugby [XVs] for a number of years. They have believed that rugby is one of the best ways to develop the skills of their personnel, involving as it does strength, teamwork and decision-making.”
The People’s Liberation Army XV team, which is stationed at the army’s sports institute in Guangzhou, also competes in an annual match against the Hong Kong Disciplined Services team in the TK Lai Cup, named after Hong Kong's Secretary for Security. The match has traditionally been played in December but in 2016 was played during Taipan Day in April, with the PLA replaced by a new Hong Kong team, the Tin Shui Wai Pandas.
The team has also been a part of the second-tier rugby competition in Hong Kong.
China did not participate in the Asian Under-19 Rugby Championship held in Malaysia in December 2016.
Efforts to develop rugby
Team China Initiative
In October 2016, World Rugby announced its Team China initiative, signed in partnership with company Alisports and China's rugby football association. Alisports committed to invest $100m over the 2016-2026 period, in an effort to further popularise both formats of the game.
According to World Rugby, the project will initially focus on four main goals: (i) Establishment of first-ever professional men's and women's 15s leagues and national sevens programmes (ii) World Rugby's Get Into Rugby mass participation programme to be run in 10,000 universities and schools in 20 provinces with the target of attracting and retaining one million new players over the next five years (iii) Development programmes to achieve the recruitment and training of 30,000 coaches and 15,000 match officials by 2020 (iv) A major rugby marketing and promotion initiative that will see Alisports invest in nationwide marketing and promotional programmes while carrying rugby content on its TV and digital platforms and Alibaba, the world's biggest e-commerce platform
IMPACT Beyond RWC 2019
IMPACT Beyond is a World Rugby initiative which has been in place since 2013, and has previously included IMPACT Beyond RWC 2015 and IMPACT Beyond Rio 2016. In May 2017, the IMPACT Beyond RWC 2019 project was launched. It is a partnership between World Rugby, Asia Rugby and the Japan Rugby Football Union and is the official 'legacy' programme for Rugby World Cup 2019. One of its four 'pillars' is 'growing the game across Asia', and as such it appears to have subsumed Asia Rugby's Asia Rugby One Million Project, which uses Get Into Rugby programmes and aims to achieve 1 million new players across Asia (making a total of 2 million) by the start of the 2019 Rugby World Cup (in China, this is being run in 4 locations: Beijing, Shanghai, Liaoning & Shandong).
The Super Rugby franchise the ACT Brumbies is planning an exhibition match in mainland China in 2017, either against another Super Rugby franchise or a European club team.
Rugby can now be viewed in China by Internet streaming.
In 2012, ARFU secretary-general Ross Mitchell was reported as saying that China's rugby administration "find it difficult to field their best team in international sevens competitions because their PLA players are not allowed permission to go overseas".
In 2016, Jin Mengwei, wife of Johnny Zhang and director of a youth rugby camp based at CAU which offers students from nearby primary schools training in sevens rugby, stated that "[t]he biggest challenge is the strong perception among parents and school principals generally that rugby is a dangerous game, even at the junior level, which features the safer touch version and uses protective gear."
In 2016, Xu Fangjie, coach of the Liaoning provincial men's team, said that "[t]he biggest problem is that we don't have enough games to play. If people can't see us play on a regular basis throughout the year, how can we promote the sport?"
Also in 2016, women's sevens coach Ben Gollings referred to "red tape" and also noted, non-judgmentally, that many of the players representing the country grew up playing other sports, and therefore do not necessarily have a personal passion for playing rugby. Similarly, the club captain of the expatriate side Beijing Devils, Steven Lynch, said in 2015 that “[t]here really needs to be deeper roots of rugby at grass roots level for it to succeed in China.” 
The Super Powers Cup was first launched in 2003. It was planned that China, Japan, Russia and the United States would play each other once. However, because of the SARS outbreak the Chinese team were forced to withdraw. Russia won the inaugural competition, defeating the USA 30-21 in Krasnoyarsk, Russia. For the 2004 competition Canada replaced China.
Hong Kong and Macau
Rugby union has an uninterrupted history in Hong Kong, where arguably the most successful sevens tournament is held. The national team of Hong Kong also participates in the Asian Five Nations. However, Rugby union has a much smaller presence in Macau.
Rugby union has an unbroken history in Taiwan, but the Chinese Civil War and souring of relations with the mainland has meant that it was effectively cut off.
Nonetheless, Taiwan, playing as Chinese Taipei, has a very successful rugby sevens side, and it is ranked in fourth position in East Asia, after Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea.
- Starmer-Smith, Nigel (ed) Rugby - A Way of Life, An Illustrated History of Rugby (Lennard Books, 1986 ISBN 0-7126-2662-X)
- China on IRB
- Cotton, Fran (Ed.) (1984) The Book of Rugby Disasters & Bizarre Records. Compiled by Chris Rhys. London. Century Publishing. ISBN 0-7126-0911-3
- Bath, Richard (ed.) The Complete Book of Rugby (Seven Oaks Ltd, 1997 ISBN 1-86200-013-1) p65
- Starmer-Smith, p186
- Video of the PLC’s match against Tonga Defence Services is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VdkJEj5tTMg
- Video of the PLC’s match against Australian Services is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Vl0xoJGVGw
- Scrum.com : Russia take Super Powers Cup