World Rugby backs out of Alisports partnership

A partnership between World Rugby and the Alisports division of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba aimed at significant bolstering rugby union’s presence in China is likely cancelled, according to reports.

The ‘Team China’ strategic partnership between World Rugby, Alisports and the Chinese Rugby Football Association was put on hold temporarily in April after rugby union’s global governing body expressed frustration about the initiative’s rate of progress in the country.

The investment programme, worth $100m (€86.3m) over 10 years, was unveiled in October 2016. However, World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper admitted in April that progress had been slower than expected.

At the heart of the issues appeared to be changes implemented by Chinese Sports Minister Gou Zhongwen, which affected a number of national sporting associations in the country, including the rugby body. This led to World Rugby and Alisports having to put forward their proposal again.

Asked to comment on reports that the partnership has been cancelled, World Rugby communication manager Suzi Murray told the South China Morning Post: “We have no comment to make. For your background our commitment to rugby in China is unwavering.”

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The partnership is understood to be a three-season deal, from 2019-20 to 2021-22, and builds on AXA’s existing Global Partner agreement with Liverpool.

The deal is the largest ever sponsorship investment in UK women’s sport and comes less than a year after the league went fully professional in September 2018.

Under the five-year global deal, Oppo will become the first Official Smartphone Partner of The Championships, Wimbledon, as the event is officially known.

US sportswear brand Nike is paying about $7.5m (€6.7m) per year to sponsor China’s League of Legends Pro League (LPL), according to industry sources.