Congrats to the mighty All Blacks on their final, hard-fought victory at the Rugby World Cup – a Monstrous effort. Let it be an inspiration to budding Chinese rugby players.
But let’s take it one step at a time. At this stage, it’s better to look at the grit of the 2nd Tier nations and their upsets as the true exemplars for aspiring rugby nations like China. Ireland beating Australia and the even more beautiful trouncing of the French by Tonga should show countries like China that with the right spirit, even the underdogs are in with a chance. Yet even with the right spirit, rugby has a way to go in China.
Rugby in China is less important than the Russian Sailors Dance
As a New Zealander having just witnessed the spectacle of the Rugby World Cup, it is hard to believe that the Chinese couldn’t care less about the game with the olive-shaped ball. But, from my earlier Chinese Rugby stats, only about 5,000 players are currently registered for the game.
Globally there are just 1,900 Google searches a month for China Rugby and Chinese Rugby – that’s less than the 2,900 for Russian Sailors Dance.
But things will change.
Japan will take their Rugby Seriously, which will help Rugby in China
The Japanese are very proud people. With the world watching Japan when they host the 2019 Rugby World Cup, they will not accept failure.
Japan’s 2011 Rugby World Cup result will have embarrassed them. They were one of just four teams in the World Cup to not win a match. Fatefully, Japan was in the Pool of Agony, up against the eventual finalists, the All Blacks and France, and the ravenous Tongans. But without even securing victory against the Canadians, heads in Tokyo will be rolling. With adults making up 44% of the rugby players in Japan (its just 7% in England) they need to get the young more engaged. Asia’s rugby heavyweight has a lot of work to do.
After rectifying nuclear disasters and a spluttering economy, close to the top of Japan’s list will be doing whatever it can to have a super rugby team by 2019. They’ll be calling on all the Toyota management principles, incorporating ninja style discipline and pumping as much Yen as is needed to bring the team up to scratch.
Increased emphasis and cash for rugby in Japan will overflow to the rest of rugby in Asia including China, which can only be good for the game.
Where to from here for Rugby in China?
There are a number of initiatives underway to develop rugby in China. The New Zealand Government sees benefits in growing the game and has sent former All Black and Rugby Sevens gold medallist Dallas Seymour over to run coaching clinics. There is talk of other New Zealand coaches being called upon.
Since 2009, the International Rugby Board has invested hundreds of millions of dollars into developing rugby globally, including a sizable portion ring fenced for the Major Markets Fund which includes China, India, Brazil, Mexico and Argentina. There are even murmurings that China could host a Rugby World Cup some day. To quote the IRB, “Rugby is considered to have compelling selling points in China as the Chinese modernize their ideas. Teamwork, camaraderie, playing by rules, and respecting opponents and referees are considered good values for Chinese youth to have as they aim to prosper in a society increasingly incorporating modern social values.”
Rugby has been added to the 2013 Chinese National Games programme and is included in the National Development System aimed at developing elite athletes. And it’ll be an Olympic sport from 2016. Fresh from being added as an official sport of the Chinese Military, the People’s Liberation Army recently competed in the 2011 International Defence Rugby Competition. Although the Chinese team didn’t manage a win, it gave them invaluable international experience and a crucial building block.
Atlhough Google statistics would indicate little interest for rugby in China, the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou saw 80,000 Chinese spectators attend the matches – some of the biggest crowds of the games. Faith in Chinese rugby shows in the sponsorship deal earlier this year with Japanese sportwear behemoth Mizuno and talk of Guinness getting in on it too.
Could This Be The Secret Key to Growing Rugby in China?
The Chinese have great genes for succeeding in the rugby stakes. Studies show that Maoris and the other Polynesians most likely came from China. I see a lot of people over here that don’t look unlike some of the bros back in NZ. There are also some big boys to choose from in this massive pool of people.
8 is a lucky number in China, and is enough years to build a solid rugby team for Japan’s 2019 Rugby World Cup. With DNA to back me up, there must be a few long-forgotten teenage relatives of Jonah Lomu and Inga Tuigamala punching shoe lace holes in factories in Northern China. The key is to bring some of these boys to a 1st Tier rugby nation such as New Zealand or England and fully immerse them into the game. Eat, sleep and crap rugby. Teach them the clichés and get them used to the scent of rugby changing rooms. Groom them to be Super 15 or Heineken Cup stars.
When Yao Ming retired from the NBA, 57% of respondents in a Weibo poll claimed they would stop watching NBA. China is hungry for sports stars performing on the world stage and there’s no reason it can’t be Jonah’s 44th-cousin-twice-removed, Mr. Zhou Ji from Dongbei.
In summary, rugby in China is going in the right direction. Coaching and player exchanges, and the IRB education programme are a good start to growing rugby in China. China’s population is getting more international. Their diets are improving and they’re drinking a lot more milk. Japan’s focus on rugby will grow the game in Asia. The Chinese Government is behind it. They are all small building blocks for a China that may someday love rugby. Anything that gets a few less people playing Pokemon on their Android mobiles has got to be good for the nation.
Here’s to a bright future for rugby in China.