Rugby: Gosper expects China bid for World Cup 'sooner than later'

LONDON (AFP) - China's ambitious sporting plans will see them bid to host a Rugby World Cup 'sooner rather than later' according to World Rugby Chief Executive Brett Gosper on Monday.

The earliest World Cup they could hope to host would be the 2027 edition as bidding for the 2023 one is closed with Ireland, France and South Africa vying to win the right to host it.

China is already keen to host the football version as its' president Xi Jinping is a fervent fan of the sport with the 2030 edition probably the likeliest one to bid for due to FIFA's rotation policy and Qatar hosting the 2022 version.

Gosper, speaking at the World Rugby Conference, said the Chinese Government liked rugby as it is a team sport which to them is character building for those who play it and that is a characteristic they want to encourage in the people.

"They would very much like a World Series Sevens event, probably in Shanghai," said the 57-year-old Australian. "Then one day sooner rather than later they would like to have a World Cup.

"That is how ambitious they are," added Gosper.

Gosper, who earlier on Monday had given the thumbs up to Japan's progress as they prepare to host the first Rugby World Cup to be held in Asia in 2019, said the recent US$100 million (S$141 million) investment in the currently low-profile sport - whose Chinese name translates literally as 'English-style olive ball' - by e-commerce giant Alibaba had been the shot in the arm rugby required there.

"China has huge potential for anyone in the sporting business literally with the size of market there," said Gosper. "We are coming from a very low base as we estimate there are about 75000 players in a population of over a billion.

"However, we have been fortunate enough that a company like Alibaba has through its' sports agency Alisports and with help from the sports agency who handles sevens for us agreed an investment strategy with them of $100million in China over the next 10 years."

Gosper played top level club rugby with the French side Racing where the players wore pink bow ties in the 1987 and 1990 domestic finals. The former advertising agent said that aside from the grand designs they had on hosting a World Cup they were going to pour money into every level of the game.

"They want to begin by investing in the professional leagues, sevens and XVs," said Gosper. "They are also going to invest in grass roots development and school programmes.

"Thus it is a potent mix: the money from the company and the desire of the government to promote team sports as they see it as helping with character building which is something that interests them."

The investment could certainly be a game changer for those who play rugby like China's national rugby captain Ma Chong, who earns 3,000 yuan (less than US$500) a month playing for his club. "As an athlete, I finally see hope for this sport," he told AFP last month.

Gosper, who has been in his present role since 2012, said it was the perfect deal for World Rugby. "It is very exciting," he said. "Every department of World Rugby will work with them and put together an investment strategy.

"It's great we can do that with somebody else's money." he added.