World Rugby agree deal with Alibaba to tackle China growth

(Reuters) - World Rugby have penned a 10-year deal with Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd to spark playing numbers and bring major events to the world's most populous country.

The deal between the world governing body and Alisports will see Alibaba's new sports division broadcast exclusive rugby content, create online rugby stores and invest in World Rugby's grassroots programme.

No financial terms were revealed for the deal unveiled on Sunday at the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens tournament but was a further sign of the increased interest in the sport ahead of its return to the Olympics later this year in Rio de Janeiro.

"With global participation having doubled to 7.7 million since rugby was re-admitted into the Olympic Games programme in 2009, this deal will ensure an unprecedented platform for rugby to reach, engage and inspire new participants across China," World Rugby Chairman Bernard Lapasset said in a statement.

World Rugby, who dubbed the deal "ground-breaking", added they would work with Alisports to bring "major rugby events" to China within the next 10 years.

It marks a first rugby deal for Alisports, which was established last year and has already inked deals with European football giants Bayern Munich and Real Madrid, NBA basketball talisman Kobe Bryant and American football body, the NFL.

"We encourage young people to join rugby to cultivate the sprit of being strong-willed, aggressive, acquisitive and unified," Alisports CEO Zhang Dazhong said.

"We will use our platform to showcase this excellent sport to millions of people."

(Writing by Patrick Johnston in Singapore; editing by Amlan Chakraborty)

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