We all know the Italians are mad about football. Italy is home to one of the top football leagues in the world, Serie A. World famous clubs such as Juventus, Milan and Inter Milan call Italy home. However, did you also know that Italians love rugby.
Do they play rugby in Italy?
Rugby is played predominantly in Northern Italy. The game was first introduced to Italy in Genoa in the 1800s by English immigrants. However, it wasn’t until Italian workers returning from France in the early 1900s did the game garner support.
Italians have claimed an ancient connection to rugby, arguing the game evolved from the Ancient Roman sport known as harpastum.
Little is known about the exact rules of harpastum but it involved players running with a ball in hand and trying to seize territory while the opposition side would attempt to tackle them and retrieve possession.
Ancient Greek historian Athenaeus describes a harpastum match, “Harpastum, is my favourite sport. Great are the exertion and fatigue attendant upon contests of ball-playing, and violent twisting and turning of the neck. Hence Antiphanes, ‘Damn it, what a pain in the neck I’ve got.’
He describes the game thus: ‘He seized the ball and passed it to a team-mate while dodging another and laughing. He pushed it out of the way of another. Another fellow player he raised to his feet. All the while the crowd resounded with shouts of Out of bounds, Too far, Right beside him, Over his head, On the ground, Up in the air, Too short, Pass it back in the scrum.’
Even though there is no direct traceable connection between rugby and harpastum, the sport did spread throughout the Roman empire and was played in Britain. Due to its combination of violence and grace I am sure the Ancient Romans would appreciate the modern game of rugby.
Is Rugby Popular In Italy?
Rugby is popular in Italy, particularly in Northern Italy due to its proximity to France’s rugby heartland. Italy currently has over 79,000 registered players and over 1000 clubs. Rugby is currently the 13th most popular sport in Italy.
Even though rugby is a popular sport in Italy it does not enjoy mainstream national popularity. Rugby is mostly a regional sport with the vast majority of clubs being based in Northern Italy. Rugby has never garnered much support in the south of the country.
Italy has a respectable number of registered players at almost 80,000 who represent over 1000 clubs. However, these numbers are nothing compared to Italy’s most popular sports such as football, swimming, tennis and skiing. Football is by far the most popular sport in Italy with over 4.3 million participants. Swimming and skiing are also highly popular sports with 3.5 million and 2 million participants.
During Mussolini’s reign he attempted to increase the popularity of rugby by making it Italy’s national sport. He enjoyed the toughness and violence of the game and wanted to drive Italians away from football which he saw as an effeminate English sport.
Mussolini, realising that rugby was also invented in England attempted to claim that rugby was a direct descendent of harpastum, further connecting his regime with Ancient Rome. Mussolini abandoned his plans of supporting rugby after he found the clubs and players were too independent and were not the fanatical supporters he had hoped for.
Despite Mussolini’s best efforts rugby in Italy never took off in the south and to this day its popularity is constrained to Northern Italy.
Can You Play Professional Rugby In Italy?
Italy has a professional rugby competition known as the top 10. Nine of the ten teams are located in Northern Italy. Two Italian teams, Aironi and Benetton Treviso also compete in the Pro 14.
For many years the top 10 competition also known as the top 12 was a purely amateur league. In recent years it turned into a semi professional competition with some players earning respectable amounts and others being paid peanuts or nothing at all.
This has changed in recent years. The competition is now sponsored by Peroni and all players receive payment with a large percentage players receiving enough to support themselves solely off their rugby skills.
There is potential for Italian rugby salaries to explode if Italian rugby officials can get the rest of Italy as enthused about rugby as the Northern diehard fans. If the sport can reach national prominence, tv rights and sponsorship deals should hit the roof and this influx of money will trickle down to the players.
Italian officials face an uphill battle in increasing rugby’s popularity within Italy as southerners are staunch football supporters and not even the infamous dictator Mussolini can shake their fondness of football.
How Much Do Italian Rugby Players Get Paid?
Italian rugby players on average earn $50,000 per year. Low level professionals in the domestic, top 10 competition earn $24,000 per year while top players who compete in the Pro 14 and represent the national side can make over $200,000 per year.
Italian rugby players’ salaries have been rising in recent years. It wasn’t that long ago that there was no professional pathway for players to make a living. However, over the last 10 years the premier domestic competition now known as the top 10 has become a fully professional league.
Players salaries are still modest compared to other professional competitions in France and England but with the average player earning $50,000 they are now able to support themselves from playing rugby.
Rugby is played by over 79,000 registered players who run out onto the rugby field, representing over 1000 clubs. Rugby is popular in Italy, currently ranking as the 13th most played sport in the nation. Italy has an established professional league known as the top 10 where players on average earn $50,000 per year.
However, rugby remains a regional sport in Italy. The majority of rugby’s support in Italy is found in the north of the country where 9 of the 10 professional clubs are based. Rugby has always been popular in the north of Italy most likely due to its proximity to France. Italian officials have been trying for years to get their southern compatriots excited about rugby but so far their efforts have been in vain.