Try, try and try again

Updated: 2016-01-22 08:12

By Sun Xiaochen(China Daily)

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Try, try and try again

Members of the China Agriculture University rugby team are during a regular training on campus in Beijing on Dec 10. [Photo by Wei Xiaohao/China Daily]

Rugby union is slowly, but surely, gaining a foothold in China. Now, enthusiasts are determined to raise its profile and dispel common misconceptions by boosting the game's appeal to the younger generation. Sun Xiaochen reports. Try, try and try again

Once just a popular pastime for expats, rugby union, especially the sevens version, has shaken off its niche status to gain wider acceptance among young Chinese participants and sports bodies.

Despite freezing weather and slight air pollution in Beijing on Saturday, the sight of about 20 children running with oval-shaped balls under their arms at a park in the capital's eastern downtown quickly attracted the attention of passers-by.

The children were participating in a two-hour training session as part of a promotion of youth rugby, albeit the less-physical version known as touch rugby.

The sessions started earlier this year by the Flying Horse Rugby Football Club - the first Chinese amateur club to promote the game in Beijing - were aimed at raising public awareness of the sport's educational value in contrast to its sometimes brutal appearance.

While the traditional format, played by teams of 15 per side, features physical contact and heavy tackling, touch rugby, in which players tag an opponent's body instead of tackling, is catching on with entry-level juniors.

Zhang Jinggang, a coach with Flying Horse, is confident that the game will eventually gain a foothold through grassroots participation, although it is nowhere near the sporting mainstream at present.

"Rugby has long been an instrumental part of education overseas, especially in countries such as Britain and Australia. I believe the value of rugby - which teaches kids teamwork, discipline and perseverance - will appeal to Chinese parents, who are beginning to care more about their children's overall development and not just academic excellence," said Zhang, who learned to play the sport in 1992 at the China Agriculture University in Beijing.

Recent setbacks

However, a recent setback at the national level has cast a shadow over the sport's growing popularity, and disappointed fans such as Zhang.

In November, both the Chinese men's and women's national sevens teams missed the opportunity to play in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro by performing poorly in the Asian qualification tournaments, in which only the winners were awarded direct berths in the Rio Games.

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