By Jonathan Rest
China is in line to host the richest-ever rugby sevens tournament later this year, in what would be the first demonstrative sign of the partnership between World Rugby, the sport's governing body, and Ali Sports, the sports arm of Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce giant, announced last year.
A 'Champion of Champions' event, involving the top eight nations in the 2016-17 World Rugby Sevens Series standings, will take place in Shanghai in October, according to reports in the country.
The inuagural event would, therefore, feature South Africa, England, Fiji, New Zealand, USA, Australia, Scotland and Canada.
A spokesman for World Rugby would not confirm the exact details of the proposed Shanghai event, but told Sportcal: "There are certainly plans to host a top sevens event in China in the future in partnership with Ali Sports, which aligns with our joint strategic objective to attract world class events to the country."
The tournament, which would be organised by Ali Sports, looks similar in concept to tennis' season-ending ATP World Tour Finals and WTA Finals, and could become a regular fixture on the sevens calendar.
Ali Sports said its priority remains to develop rugby union at the grassroots level in China.
Last October, Ali Sports announced it will invest $100 million over 10 years in the domestic game in its long-term partnership with World Rugby, which was penned in April 2016.
The fund will go towards the creation of the first-ever professional men’s and women’s leagues, as well as a national rugby sevens programme, as the discipline now forms part of the Olympic Games programme.
In addition, Ali Sports and World Rugby will collaborate on marketing initiatives and e-commerce platforms in China, including an extensive media platform for rugby, with exclusive World Rugby content to be offered across multiple online channels.
The initial Ali Sports-World Rugby deal was brokered by CSM Sport & Entertainment, the UK-based sports marketing agency, which has formed a partnership with Ali Sports to establish “global sports properties” and mass participation events in China.