SHANGHAI: Rugby is currently a low profile sport in China, but that is expected to change soon after the sports division of Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce giant, announced last week that it will invest $100m to develop the game.

Alisports has joined forces with World Rugby, the sport's international governing body, to support the establishment of the first-ever professional men's and women's league structures as well as a national rugby sevens programme in China.

And the unprecedented investment aspires to build up the number of players in the country from fewer than 80,000 to about one million over the next five years, the South China Morning Post reported.

That ambition will be supported by a massive mass participation initiative across 10,000 schools and universities, accompanied by the recruitment and training of 30,000 coaches and 15,000 match officials by 2020.

In the meantime, Alisports will help World Rugby to promote the sport with a nationwide marketing campaign via its broadcast and digital channels.

"Rugby is a great Olympic team sport with strong values, which is why we are so excited about its undoubted potential in China," said Zhang Dazhong, CEO of Alisports, in a statement released by World Rugby.

"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 one million new players in five years," he added.

"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."

It has been recognised for a long time that Chinese sports fans love football and the Chinese government has been investing heavily to turn the country into a first-class footballing nation.

But just as that development has caught the attention of global marketers, they now most likely will have to factor rugby into their strategic plans after one of China's largest companies has thrown its weight behind the sport.

Data sourced from South China Morning Post, World Rugby, BBC; additional content by Warc staff