Broughto’s Blog
Jan 28

China and Rugby League

 The People’s Republic of China (PRC)

      The game of rugby league and the

                           China Australia Sport  Education (CASE).

New York    “Every major league is trying to expand in China, and every world league looks to China as its goal market because China is now the crown jewel with an enormous population and with an ever increasing wealth which has allowed it to now become the worlds wealthiest nation”. 

Over the last 18 years that I have been going to and from China it wasn’t until 2012 that I actually thought of rugby league been played in and by  the most populous nation in the world. I shared the popular opinion that the Chinese were not built to play the game of rugby league. Well I was completely wrong. The male and female athletes of China are reaching goals in team and individuals events of sport never thought possible 20 years ago. That journey is well recorded in the book One More Walk Around The Block.
I have been trying to convince the Australian sports authorities and DEFAT that sport itself was a major communication  and with the PRC it far outweighed political dialogue.


” In China, the sports authorities of the country announcing an ambitious plan. According to the 13th Five-Year Plan for sports development, the revenue for Chinese sports industry will reach three trillion yuan, or 460 billion US dollars, by the end of 2020. For the much anticipated Chinese football, the plan reiterates the goal that by 2020 both the men’s and women’s will have impressive results at the World Cup, Asian Cup and Olympics.Meanwhile, the levels of “three big balls” sports — which are football, basketball and volleyball will be improved systematically in this country. According to the General Administration of Sport, China’s overall sports industry revenue will amount to more than three trillion yuan, accounting for one percent in GDP with the added value of sports service taking up 30-percent in the overall sports So according to the plan, more value and jobs will be created in the sport sector. Team China are looking to improve their performance at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, ahead of the 2022 Beijing-Zhangjiakou Winter Games.

By 2020, it is expected there will be enough sports facilities that it would equate to 1.8 square meters per Chinese citizen. The plan underlines China’s supportive measures and requests for football’s development in the country and includes a lottery operation system for Chinese domestic football leagues.The plan further endorses the “Medium and Long-Term Plan of Chinese Football Development”, which was issued last month by China’s National Development and Reform Commission, aiming at becoming “top class soccer nation” by 2050.The plan also lays out goals for basketball, volleyball, winter sports, as well as a nationwide fitness programs.

“We hope more and more people can contribute in sports, and help improve the health and living standard of the Chinese people,” said Liu Peng, General Administration of Sport of China.

To achieve that, China will have 20,000 football academies, 7,000 pitches, hoping more than 50-million people can play the beautiful game regularly. The ultimate goal, is for the country to become a top-class football nation by the middle of the century.For basketball, the men’s and women’s national teams are expecting good results at the Rio Olympics. The men have already qualified, the women are in the process. For volleyball, the Chinese women are expected to maintain their leading position in the Tokyo Olympics. Meanwhile, the men’s team will try to narrow its gap with world powers and try to secure the future”  End

Federation Of Sport Shanghai

Rugby League must look to penetrate the Chinese market .To ignore that very fact meets disassociating from an opportunity to engage with at least 20% of Australia’s future population from following or supporting the game. As at the date of this document there is no other organisation in the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) that is responsible for conducting programs with strategies that provide pathways for rugby league players or coaches in organisational structures.  

 CASE has arrived at the conclusion that China and Asia can and should play a very important role in the future of a global rugby league family.


I went to China to speak of drugs in sport. I did so because I was asked by some of the Chinese community on the Gold Coast to speak to their coaches on matters of which I was familiar. The story of the firm and ensuring relationships built with the federations of the People’s Republic of China and the sports universities of that nation are well documented
I have tremendous respect for what the Chinese are trying to to achieve in sport. I am a passionate believer in the rugby league is  one sport that the Chinese athletes male and female would play with some degree of skill and certainly with an enormous amount of national pride for the time when China reaches international standard in all team sport, and it will.
The methodology of introducing rugby league into China through an operational management strategy rather than a long-term strategic plan is moving along quite quickly.

With the introductions of the modified game of Nines (nine players in 9 minute halves) will be played in the People’s Republic of China and Hong Kong and the World Nines Women will be held in November 2019. Women in rugby league will make a significant contribution to the way the game is played. Australian women have had a grounding in ball control and methods of ball release that many men would not have  encountered given games such as netball  have been exclusively a female contaxt  sport.  I believe that  in the future women will change the way that traditional football games are played without impinging on the laws of the game. They will create new coaches who think differently and create a game at they own.
I have spent two years trying to convince the National Rugby League (NRL) and the Rugby league International Federation (RLIF) of the absolute importanceof the PRC to the games future. CASE has always observed protocol and will continue seeking the advice of approval of the RLIF which is of prinary important as there are no short cuts in evolution as evolution  relies upon cooperation.

 CASE has long term  strong agreements with Sports Federations and the introduction of the game by way of coach and player education however That is in the long-term. The catalyst for the growth of the game in China whilst it is in early stages is nevertheless built on the 20 years that CASE  has been in China and the very strong relationships with the Federations.
The photo shows three young athletes from the Shanghai University of Sport( SUS.) The boy in red ran the 100m in10.4.and hand-held timer  on grass in possession of football that is really quite quick. The other two ran 10.5. All three had 40m runs that were well up to standard of NRL. I am 1.80cm and 90kg. 

The first time rugby league has really been heard about in China was when I have spoken over the years in various provinces on drugs in sport. I spoke to Chinese coaches prior to the 2000 Sydney Games and the consequent visits to perform presentations at Legends of Kung Fu in Shenzhen and visited as special guest of the Shaolin Temple in Henan province. The present President of Russia, Vladimir Putin’s son was there learning, with the young monks, the value of self-discipline.

Building relationships in the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) with sport specific authorities takes patience and time. We have just witnessed the meeting of South and North Korea with an opening agenda of the Winter Olympics. As Mandela is quoted “Sport has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.”

We have visited, as honoured guests, with Master Yon Xing, the Abbot of the Shaolin Monastery in the Henan Province, known for the young monks who have an international reputation as martial arts experts and superb athletes in their own right. All this was achieved through the self-funded China Australia Sport Education (CASE) by the directors. Master Yon Xing is the spiritual head of Buddhism in China

It was not until I researched and wrote the book, One More Walk Around the Block, coupled with the fact that Japan will host the RWC in 2019 and after being briefed on the quality of the production of the Japanese tournament, that I realised that ‘Asia and rugby league’ was not on a critical, survivalist code agenda in the highly populous and influential global demographic, that of Asia.

History records that China has not performed well in world standings in Soccer and Rugby and the reasons are complex, but during the Cultural Revolution Rugby was deemed by the Government as “ the meeting of sullied bodies in physical contact (that) cannot be approved“.

When the game returned in the early ‘70s there were no facilities, coaches, fields, organisational structure, and consequently a drought of players, but now that the largest employer in the world, the Red Army has included Rugby as a part of training things may well change.  The Alibaba Group has announced it will contribute 100 million USD over the next 10 years to the development of Rugby and we are talking with the Australian Group representatives.

China returned to the Olympics in 1988, with both a national and individual passion that drives every Chinese athlete to represent their country. Whilst this is fervent and admirable, the selection process takes three years, and only four hundred athletes in several disciplines are chosen. This meant that team sport outside of a Games event has suffered in quality. Chinese youths both male and female forsake all team sport in pursuit of selection in individual events and the difference between selection and missing by the barest of milliseconds affects thousands in China.

As a consequence there are at this time several University teams with just three or four good rugby players, and the rest are social standard. There is surprisingly less emphasis placed on talent identification rather than generic inheritance, and natural talent is the benchmark.

Rugby league can take the high ground in China through the Sports Universities, this would be a significant and positive step in globalisation of the game. China has continued to implement tried and tested procedures in coaching teams. The desire to learn the skills of particular sport is inherent in the Chinese athlete. It is through coach education and player education that the Chinese then produce the best athletes, Commercialism is also a major part of the six sports universities at present in the PRC. I have over the last 2 ½ years failed to convince the NRL or the RLIF of the importance of China to the game of rugby league globally.

Most of the Chinese athletes  we tested have little technique but nevertheless excellent evasive skills which may be due one would think through the many and varied touch Rugby competitions that are conducted throughout the People’s Republic of China and Hong Kong. However the martial arts background ensures there is no lack of desire to make physical contact whether individually or collectively.

It’s a myth for one to assume the Chinese players lack size to be competitive in the rugby codes. The People’s Republic of China is no different to any other nation as there are areas in China that compare physically with the Polynesians, and it is a proven fact that there of the immense gaining in strength and weight for Chinese players given a specific weight programs.

Over the last two years that CASE has strategised to establish and progress China rugby league and again I thank storm Broncos and Sea Eagles coaching staff. There was an increasing desire to play the game of rugby league because the game required less scrummaging and lineouts and allowed more freedom to run the football”.

Long term strategy and short term operational planning for development of rugby league in the People’s Republic of China

Rather than five-year strategic planning, during which each year the plan is revisited and the five years is ongoing, we have adopted operational planning as the preferred option. This operational plan would require that at least two or more NRL clubs would take a minimum of three Chinese players on small scholarships with player education as a priority.

The responsibility of myself and CASE would be to ensure that the athletes chosen would be guests of an NRL during the season of 2018 over a period of three weeks.

I take the responsibility of identifying the athletes by using standard ID procedures to allow the clubs to assess the potential within an athlete who has never played the game. We take the responsibility of producing these athletes prior to July 2018. It is then hoped that the clubs who see the concept as a holistic growth of rugby league in the world’s most populous nation as one that will benefit the game and their club in the long-term. The scholarship period should be a minimum of three weeks. And at the end of this time the Chinese players would return home to re-join with their (host) NRL club in February 2019 or in line with NRL scheduling  for the Challenge (Exhibition)game. During a three week period is hoped that the clubs in question can fulfil the scholarship obligation.

The introduction into a nation of 1.2 billion people requires that the rugby league authorities create pathways, continuity, plus  procedures and planning that encompass both education (Academic) and coach and player education (Sport).

By introducing Rugby League into China at university level it would mean that we do not alienate growth opportunities for ‘Club’ rugby league development over time. The top down (Uni) / bottom up (High School) approach would be achieved through seeding coaching and playing in unison, creating an immediate entry point whilst having younger players developing through to Uni level. Recruitment of two or more athletes each year from both educational levels, coupled with coach accreditation and high school on line coaching provides a substantial cost effective methodology to establish global recognition of China as a rugby league nation within three years.

The introduction of a sport by way of developing an infrastructure of clubs at a senior and junior level in Shanghai, a city with a larger population than Australia, will never work either in the short or medium term as has been proved over the last 50 years in Australia’s three southern states. Development officers will be those that grows game from within the People’s Republic of China itself, of that I have no doubt.

The NRL strategists see  global expansion  and judgement for English-speaking nations As preferential to a foreign language. Well the deaf have been playing every conceivable sport for 100 years. I was with Russian Track and Field coaches in Shanghai as they coached the Chinese and they had no problem. A US research company (Pilot) will have, by 2020 software headgear where the sideline coach can speak in English and on the training field the player hears it in Mandarin. Italian is nearly ready for use in the immediate future. All innovation in rugby league should be done in tandem, not in isolation of a range of other cutting edge factors.

Rugby League A distinct advantage over the other well sports the simple reason that China could qualify for the rugby league World Cup within four  years, In all categories, professional men and women and universities. The NRL has the flexibility to achieve this through the cooperation of the NRL clubs and a generosity of their staff. Once the Chinese fans perceived their own players performing in a Challenge match comprising of two NRL clubs then the Asian Sporting and Commercial world will know about rugby league andits place in  Asian sport.

”  The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark” . Michelangelo.

Regards and best wishes
Paul Broughton OAM
chair. China Australian Sport Education



  1. rugby league supporter
    January 28, 2018 at 7:45 pm · Reply

    This looks like an outstanding opportunity for rugby league. How do you reckon a Chinese team will go? Are the Chinese going to be interested in rugby league?

  2. Stevo
    January 29, 2018 at 6:43 pm · Reply

    Paul..what do you think makes China and rugby league so interesting? you have a real passion about this…trying to get my head around it..

  3. Name (Amra Caldarevic)
    January 29, 2018 at 8:48 pm · Reply

    What a great opportunity, particularly given we know how successful Rugby is in breaking down social barriers. We need to get behind this!

  4. Anonymous
    January 29, 2018 at 9:28 pm · Reply

    How well received is rugby league in China? I’m sure that a league comp. in China would excite aussie and brit expats but what about the locals?

    • Paul Broughton
      January 30, 2018 at 9:07 am · Reply

      Until recently there was not even a word for rugby in Mandarin. Whilst rugby league is the smallest of the international football games it also has the capacity to pro-act when the opportunity arises. The Chinese fans are the same as fans throughout the world in that if a member of your home country is participating you will watch the screen or attend the game, even eventually participate. Our ultimate goal is to have Chinese men and women competing in Shanghai/Hong Kong Nines (modified from the games international rules the same as rugby sevens). Also, because of its size globally the Rugby League International Federation (RLIF) has the power to invite a nation to complete in a World Cup of Rugby League . Rugby league must continue to be innovative for as Michelangelo said ” The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark”

  5. Kate
    January 30, 2018 at 6:11 pm · Reply

    It appears that the AFL is already trying to establish a foothold on the Chinese market by playing regular season and exhibition games in Shanghai. The success of this venture is debatable, despite being in action for at least 10 years. What do you see as the key to success in China and why would NRL be more successful than AFL in China?

    • Paul Broughton
      February 1, 2018 at 12:47 pm · Reply

      The People’s Republic of China has a resident population of 1.2 billion. They have a culture which revolves around “whole of nation” but does not always provide the opportunity for their legal coach education and academic education.
      Rugby League can provide the language of progress for many Chinese who did not make the “Cut”in their chosen sport . Because of this national pride is unlikely that they will support a game named after another country.(AFL)
      I want to see not just Chinese but North Americans including Canadians “Scouted”. whether they have played the game or not but fit the profile psychologically and physiologically. The Shanghai Nines for both men and women will provide the opportunity for Asian players in particular to play a modified games and provided opportunity for a scholarship within Australia.

  6. Name ian smith
    February 1, 2018 at 9:46 am · Reply

    Paul , once again your foresight is golden . The press lead story yesterday on nrl was about another team in brisbAne .
    A region with 2 million and already two nrl teams .
    China the largest population , unlimited finances and a desire to engage in sport , and no rugby league .
    It will be a long road , but 30 years ago would the icc have thought that players would be earning two million dollars playing eight weeks cricket in India .or that France would have The dominate club rugby competition .

    We could be reading that the future cameron smith has signed for Shanghai .

    • Paul Broughton
      February 1, 2018 at 10:59 am · Reply

      History will repeat itself and rugby league if we failed to learn from 1996 when decisions are made without consideration the the impact of the future. Viewing product that was so scarce in that time is no longer a concern due to wonderful upsurge of women’s sport in what was previously a male dominated will impact .
      The major concern to rugby league in the near future will be the lack of quality players. Where these players come from ? Well At the present moment The Pacific Isalnds but you be surprised to know there are 250 Fijians playing in France and 35 are wingers. Post Rugby World Cup and the growth of rugby in Asia from Japan and in Europe will further impinged on Pacifics capacityb to continue to supply rugby leagues needs.. The three untapped markets are Northern America, China and the tree southern states Victoria South Australia and Western Australia. So USA first. One in every 10,000 players who played high school football make it to the draft, actually its 1.6%. China they are tens of thousands of athletes who fit the psychological and physiological profile of a rugby league player but lack technique. There is no down time for the Chinese athlete their whole focus would be a learning are becoming a better player. Rugby league is known for its loyalty to the system that produces the continuing line that exist in today’s pathways but the present moment there are no Americans no Chinese no South Africans, and exceeding very few Victorians South Australians or Western Australians playing the game of rugby league in the NRL. Sometimes we can get lost in data when simplicity is the real answer. It’s not about offering scholarships or contracts to an unknown rugby league player is about providing opportunities for Coach and Academic education to an athlete who may never have played the game to advance himself or herself both academically and in the game of rugby league. Cameron Murray in Shanghai what a wonderful thought.

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