World Rugby Executive Committee member Bob Latham has said the international governing body is particularly keen to see more women’s sevens events held in China as part of its attempts to tap into the East Asian nation’s sport market.
The American was speaking here today as part of a showcase panel at the World Sport Events and Tourism Summit.
Establishing professional men's and women's league structures, national rugby sevens programmes and attracting one million players in five years were announced as key aims when World Rugby revealed in October last year that $100 million (£81 million/€91 million) would be invested in China.
The record investment is being made by e-commerce giant Alibaba through their Alisports sports division, with the aim of unlocking the rugby potential of China.
It comes after the company agreed a 10-year strategic partnership with World Rugby and the China Rugby Football Association last April, with the funding being used to support targeted projects over the next decade to drive the performance of the national teams and grow participation in the country.
Latham described the women’s sevens programme as the most advanced of the senior programmes in China, citing the country’s triumph at the 2014 Asian Games in South Korean city Incheon and bronze medal-winning performance at the same year’s Youth Olympic Games on home soil in Nanjing as evidence.
However, the country has not been on the World Rugby Women's Sevens Series calendar since the 2013-2014 season, when it staged events in Guangzhou.
In his presentation, Latham identified potential events China could host within the next two years, including World Cup qualifying matches and those within the World Rugby Sevens Series for men.
But he told insidethegames afterwards that particular focus is being put on ensuring a stronger presence in the World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series.
"We’re tossing around ideas," he said.
"There’s things that we’ve talked about.
"The one that makes the most sense is women’s sevens.
"We want more tournaments for the women’s sevens players.
"The women’s sevens programme is the most advanced of the senior programmes here in China so that makes the most sense.
"But we’re talking about some other things as well.
"We want to be doing some sevens events on a more regional scale as well, not just on the World Sevens circuit.
"We need competitive sevens matches for teams that aren’t the top 16 men’s teams or the top 12 women’s teams in the world.
"I don’t want to get too specific but there’s probably three things on the table that we’re looking at."
Other potential events listed in Latham’s presentation were domestic ones, developed with the support of Alisports, and youth, university and "IMPACT Beyond" competitions.
Launched last month, IMPACT Beyond is a project of the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.
It is hoped the initiative will attract one million new participants in Asia.
World Rugby also has a mass participation programme, "Get Into Rugby", which aims to encourage players of all ages to "try, play and stay” in the sport.
According to World Rugby figures from March, there are now more than 2.2 million women and girls playing the game around the globe, while 39 per cent of the 1.99 million Get Into Rugby participants in 2016 were female.
"Get Into Rugby is the perfect vehicle because it’s not intimidating - it’s safe," Latham added.
"Entry is easy and you put a ball in a kid’s hands and let them run around.
"So once we can kind of get that participation going, I think we can get some momentum.
"Obviously, I think Alibaba and Alisports wants things to happen at the top and professional level too and the organisations here want to be filling stadiums and venues.
"The women’s sevens team is obviously competitive on the world stage.
"We need to make sure that the other senior teams try to get there."