English olive-ball game: Rugby in China

The Chinese word for Rugby is   英式 橄榄球yingshi gan lan qiu)ie: ‘English Olive-ball game’- obviously because the ball is the shape of an olive.


It has not been a particularly popular game here compared with other Western sports such as basketball, tennis, football (aka soccer). It is mostly played by ex-pats, but is also played by members of the Chinese military who think the game is great for instilling team-work and toughening up the players.  When they leave the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) many men and women who have played the game and come to love it have set up their own small Rugby clubs.chinese_rugby_football_association

Now it has had a MASSIVE boost.  The sports division of AlibabaAlisports, headed by CEO Zhang Dazhong  – is ploughing $100 million ( approx £80.5 million)  into rugby in China over the next 5 years. This will pay for the training of coaches, referees, players etc…..and the numbers are huge – 30,000 coaches, 15,000 match officials and                1 million players by 2021 is what they aim to achieve!


Why are they doing this?  Interesting question. Not being an expert on rugby in China (or anywhere else) I consulted my dear friend Robert Costello who has lived, worked and played rugby in China for a number of years.  He told me:

‘..much of this is due to China’s desire to play a greater role internationally in not just the key hard-power areas of foreign policy, military presence and investment but also in soft power areas such as sport. One of the key developments we had was Rugby 7s being made an Olympic Sport for the 2016 Games in Rio this summer and with China still very driven on defining its sporting prowess through the number of gold medals, the Chinese government will want to boost its chances of making rugby another event to add to its medal tally in future Olympics.’

Robert went on to say:
The fact that China has never qualified for a Rugby World Cup, and its dismal position in the world rankings (it is currently 68th behind absolutely tiny nations such as the Cayman Islands and the Cook Islands, although we know that population numbers don’t necessarily mean success given the fact that New Zealand, a country of barely  4.5m, absolutely dominates the sport) is most likely a sore spot.
Especially when the largest growth in audience numbers for the 2015 Rugby World Cup came from Asia with viewership up over 200% and rugby growing very strongly around the world.
So know you know;  and if you notice that China seems to be climbing the Rugby rankings you will understand why.

About herschelian

Started my 60s by moving to China with my DH. Surprised to find I am still here in Beijing eight years later - still finding it an adventure!
This entry was posted in Sport and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to English olive-ball game: Rugby in China

  1. John Rollason says:

    Fascinating, Jo!


  2. I think it will soon run into a deadend. Reminds me too much on their Ice Hockey ambitions. Just saw few weeks ago on Finnish TV how they invited Finnish Teams to China for practice games and trying to get also Finnish Ice Hockey coaches. The problem is that practice costs for each kid roughly 1200 Euros per month…just insane!

  3. Bea dM says:

    I’ve been reading about Alibaba in terms of business model for years, and this is a pretty unexpected development. Fascinating! But what really made me laugh was the olive-ball name haha!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s