Alibaba is set to invest £82m ($100m) into Chinese rugby over the next ten years in a joint initiative with World Rugby to grow the game in the country.
Alisports - the sport arm of e-commerce company, Alibaba - will look to recruit 1 million new players into the sport within five years.
The investment will aid efforts to set up programmes in 10,000 schools and universities and train 30,000 coaches as well as launch the first professional leagues for men and women in China. In addition, a national sevens programme will also be set up.
According to World Rugby fewer than 80,000 Chinese people play the sport, including an estimated 21,000 in Hong Kong, and is less popular than football and basketball as a spectator sport.
Chinese men & women players at today's Shanghai media announcement of Alisport's $100 million 10 year investment in China rugby development. pic.twitter.com/TyfIiB3DR3— Brett Gosper (@brettgosper) October 26, 2016
It’s not Alisports' first partnership within sport, having partnered with governing bodies of amateur boxing, basketball, the FIFA Club World Cup and the NFL and also invested $150m into the International eSports Federation.
Zhang Dazhong, chief executive, Alisports said: "Rugby is a great Olympic team sport with strong values, which is why we are so excited about its undoubted potential in China.
"We have a great partner in World Rugby and together we will work tirelessly to promote the development of rugby in China with a goal of inspiring 1m new players in five years.
"With the support of World Rugby and a strong strategic plan, we believe that rugby in China will take off as an attractive, inclusive mass-participation sport of sportsmanship and character."
World Rugby, chief executive, Brett Gosper added: "World Rugby's strategic mission is to grow the global rugby family.
"China is central to that mission and we are delighted to be announcing further details of our ground-breaking plans. Driven by a common vision, ambitious but attainable goals and an unprecedented investment programme, we are confident that we can build a strong and sustainable platform from which to ensure China is in the best-possible position to become a major force on the international stage with strong men's and women's sevens and 15s teams, sustainable leagues, model development and participation programmes and real major event hosting potential."
The Rugby World Cup will go to Asia for the first time in 2019 when Japan host the tournament.
Image: Brett Gosper