China is preparing to host the third round of the IRB Women’s Sevens World Series, and the significance for all of Asian rugby cannot be overstated.
As rugby seeks to grow in its non-traditional markets, it is crucial that Asia has a round of the Women’s World Series to match the Hong Kong and Tokyo rounds of the men's HSBC Sevens World Series.
The fact that Olympic powerhouse China is to play host to the women takes things into another realm and the Zengcheng event held recently has proven that they are more than capable, and ready.
"This is massive for Asia. Over 16 countries in Asia have a national women’s Sevens team now and in 2012 international women’s Sevens tournaments were played in China, Hong Kong, Malaysia and India. This is now a recognition of the progress Women’s Rugby has made," said IRB Regional General Manager for Asia, Jarrad Gallagher.
"For China, it is an opportunity to showcase what they can do with a rugby event on two fronts: to promote rugby in China and also to demonstrate the benefits of hosting international rugby events in China."
The finest women's Sevens athletes in the world will take in stops in Dubai and USA (Houston) before arriving in Guangzhou in March 2013 en route to the Netherlands (Amsterdam) in May.
"They will get a glimpse of what life is like in the world’s most populous country," added Gallagher. "The sheer size and numbers, the potential of what could be achieved here, the wonderful Chinese hospitality. The legacy potential is vast.
"It is a cliché to say it, but there is genuine rugby potential in China. There is still a long way to go but the desire to win Gold medals, and to increase player participation, are key goals of Sports authorities in China.
"We are on the right path. The IRB continues to work through the proper Government authorities and protocols to develop the game there. We're partnering with the Sports authorities and with the China Rugby Football Association to run events as well as development programmes."
Those events include the Asian Games in Guangzhou in 2010, the Shanghai Sevens (since 2009), the Guangzhou Zengcheng Sevens in 2012 and now the IRB Women’s Sevens World Series in Guangzhou in 2013. Add to that the Asian Youth Games in August 2013, the All China Games in 2013 and the Youth Olympic Games in 2014 and you begin to grasp the potential as well as the appetite for rugby in China.
And the one thing that brought about this sea-change? Olympic inclusion. In a country like China, where funding is granted in the pursuit of medals, it has made every ounce of difference.
"The re-inclusion of Rugby in the Olympics has opened doors and opportunities that could never have been opened on a performance level, but also on a participation level," admits Gallagher.
"The national teams are prioritised for training facilities, funding, programmes.
"Inclusion in the All China Games 2013 has allowed provinces in China to set up performance programmes.
"Importantly, the recognition has also allowed participation programmes, such as the 'Get into Rugby' to start in Guangzhou and Nanjing."