In little over a month the fate of Rugby Sevens will be known and its inclusion as an Olympic sport will be decided when the 106-member assembly meet in Copenhagen. Following the IOC’s decision to recommend Sevens, along with golf, to be included as of 2016 as an Olympic sport, many people have dreamt of what the decision could mean for the sport in their country.
In little over a month the fate of Rugby Sevens will be known and its inclusion in the Olympic Games will be decided when the 106-member assembly meet in Copenhagen.
Following the IOC’s decision to recommend Sevens, along with golf, to be included as of 2016 as an Olympic sport, many people have dreamt of what the decision could mean for the sport in their country.
But few people will be fretting over the decision as much as the band of enthusiasts who have run the sport in China on a shoestring for the last two decades – including China women’s head coach Zheng Hongjun.
Such is China's obsession with Olympic success that a vote from the International Olympic Committee to add Sevens to the schedule for the 2016 Olympic Games would transform the ‘olive ball game’, as it is known in Chinese.
A positive outcome in October would mean Sevens will attract central government funding in many countries, but in China, it will also become a sport at China's quadrennial National Games - leading to the establishment of teams in most of the country’s 31 provinces and regions
"If rugby manages to get into the Olympics there will inevitably be a great development in China," said Zheng.
"The state will pay more attention to it, so rugby can enjoy a quick expansion all over the country as the sports schools' provincial teams will be launched one after another. And we will eventually see professional players being produced by the state sports structure."
The China Agricultural University is the heart and soul of Chinese rugby, providing the team with a 500,000-yuan (£44,627) annual grant which, along with a few scraps of sponsorship, have sustained the sport since 1990 – but an inclusion in the Olympics would see funding come from all areas in China including the government.
China joined the IRB in 1996 but have focussed almost exclusively on Sevens recently and this will continue to happen if it becomes an Olympic sport, but it has always had the backing of Zheng.
As well as an increase in the funding behind the sport, Zheng estimates the number of Chinese Sevens rugby players will increase due to the nature of the build required for Sevens matching that of people in China and their obsession with the Olympics.
"It was difficult at the beginning. This was a brand new sport in China," he recalled. "People said all kinds of negative things. But I had faith in rugby. It was so exciting and I thought it would definitely have good prospects.
"It's less expensive, more fitting with Chinese people's speed, mobility and relatively smaller body size and, significantly, an Asian Games event.”
China have indeed shown what they can achieve recently in Sevens, and it was Zheng’s women who won the Bowl at the inaugural women’s Rugby World Cup Sevens beating Brazil 10-7 in the final and the sport has become one of the fastest growing sports in China.
The men also won a bronze medal when Sevens made its Asian Games debut in 2007, inspired by captain Johnny Zhang - one of China's very own Sevens specialists.
"I was very excited when I heard rugby might enter the Olympics. We will now be able to pay to take part in tournaments abroad, and would not have to wait for invitations with offers of accommodation," said Zhang.
"My life would be much easier. We would no longer be short of money and all back-up stuff such as medical care and scientific research would be guaranteed."
The changes may come too late for Zhang, who plans to retire after next year's Asian Games in Guangzhou but if the IOC approves rugby for 2016 in October there would also be a women's event similar to the way the inaugural women’s Rugby World Cup Sevens was run in Dubai in March.
That would be good news for players such as Bai Ying, who number even fewer than their male counterparts and have to also challenge Chinese ideas of femininity.
"Everyone thinks it's weird for women to play rugby because it requires a tough and muscular body," the 25-year-old said.
"People feel like: 'Wow, why have you made yourself so big? How ugly!' but healthy is also beautiful. Nowadays people are increasingly open, so they will slowly get used to the sport."
In the build up to the Olympic decision the Shanghai Sevens will take place on September 12-13 as one of the six-legs in the Asian Rugby Sevens Series. By the time the next leg in the Philippines takes place in October we will know the fate Rugby Sevens.
National teams from all over Asia, including China, Japan, Hong Kong, Chinese Taipei and Singapore, will take part in the 2009 Shanghai IRB Rugby Sevens tournament at the Shanghai Rugby Football club.
The two-day rugby festival is part of the ongoing plan of the International Rugby Board (IRB) to develop rugby in China and the event is sanctioned by the IRB, the China Rugby Football Union and the Asian Rugby Football Union.