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

The CAU team was one of the first rugby teams set up on the Chinese mainland.

For many Chinese enthusiasts, the defeat of the women's team hit hardest because the side had already cemented its status as the regional leader by claiming the sevens' title at the 2014 Asian Games.

Cui Weihong, secretary-general of the China Rugby Football Association, said the failure to make the Olympics was a huge blow to the fledging sport at national level.

"It's a big disappointment because we had so much confidence in, and expectation for, the women's team. We hoped its Olympic debut would bring more exposure to the sport, which has been hampered by a lack of funding outside the Olympic system in China for years," he said.

In a country where Olympic success weighs heavily on the assessment of sports officials, rugby sevens has been attracting growing attention from the General Administration of Sport of China, the country's top governing body for sports, since 2009, when members of the International Olympics Committee voted to include rugby in the Olympic program.

In 2013, to prompt funding and support from local sports authorities, rugby was included in the quadrennial Chinese National Games, and since 2010, two national championships - two-day sevens' tournaments held in different locations - have been held every year.

According to the CRFA, a record 12 men's and eight women's teams have been established by provincial sports bureaus to prepare for the National Games in 2017. However, while the number of players registered with the association rose from 200 in 2009 to about 2,000 in 2014, the number in England alone surpassed 340,000 in the same year, according to the International Rugby Board's annual report.

Promotion in schools

Insiders said the game's inclusion in the Olympics has inspired the governing bodies of sports in China to invest at the elite level, but strong grassroots promotion is the way forward, to encourage and involve more young people, and could lead to future prosperity.

"We have to try to change the stereotype that rugby is a dangerous game, which is not for everyone, by promoting the less-physical touch version on campuses and in communities," said Zhang Zhiqiang, a former captain of the Chinese men's national team.

Zhang was among the first group of homegrown rugby players. He learned to play the game in the 1990s, while studying at China Agriculture University in Beijing.