Alibaba chairman Jack Ma signs deal World Rugby to develop the sport in China
The move by Alibaba chairman Jack Ma follows his recent investment in China’s football industryReuters

Alibaba chairman Jack Ma has signed a development and sponsorship deal with World Rugby, the global governing body for the sport, which organizes the Rugby World Cup every four years. The deal is aimed at promoting the sport in China, the world's second largest economy.

On 10 April, Alisports, the e-commerce giant's sports division said it would make a long-term multimillion dollar investment in the development of rugby in China. Zhang Dazhong, chief executive of Alisports said: "We encourage young people to join rugby to cultivate the spirit of being strong-willed, aggressive, acquisitive and unified."

In exchange for its investment, Alisports which was formed by Alibaba in September 2015 will benefit by gaining exclusive rights for broadcasting the sport on its internet platform. Bernard Lapasset, chairman at World Rugby said: "This deal will ensure an unprecedented platform for rugby to reach, engage and inspire new participants across China." The collaboration is also aimed at helping China host more international rugby events.

The move by Ma follows his recent investment in China's football industry. The surging interest in football in China has seen recent investments in the sport by other Chinese billionaires too such as Wang Jianlin, the chairman of the Dalian Wanda property and entertainment group.

Alisports, which has received minority investments from Sina, a Chinese online media company and Yunfeng Capital, a private investment vehicle controlled by Ma, owns a 38% stake in Evergrande Taobao FC, a football club located in the southern city of Guangzhou. On the other hand, Jianlin owns a 20% stake in Spain's Atlético Madrid.

While this shows what Chinese tycoons have done for the world of football, it is far from certain what their contribution will be towards rugby. China has been represented only sporadically at the Hong Kong Sevens, the premier tournament on the World Rugby Sevens Series competition. The sport is still seen to have a very low profile in China, according to the Financial Times.