The Italian Rugby Federation (FIR) recently announced that it had reached a three-year agreement with the City of Florence for the organization of the November test matches of the Italian men’s rugby national team. The Artemio Franchi stadium, customarily known as Fiorentina’s stomping grounds, will stage three friendly games in the next three years, the first one of which will be against South Africa on November 19, then Argentina in 2017 and another national team yet to be announced in 2018.
It is not the first time that Florence has hosted matches of this caliber at the afore-stated venue. In fact, in 2010 and 2012, the “Azzurri” played against Australia, with fans always reacting with great enthusiasm and support for the team. This passion shown by the people of Florence is one of the reasons that caused the FIR to choose the Tuscan city for these events.
“On behalf of the Federation, there is an intention to propose and establish locations for a set number of years, in order to build up enthusiasm and passion for the event, giving continuity and avoiding to make a ‘one-time thing’ out of it. The choice of Florence comes from a geographical standpoint, given the city’s centrality in Italy, and because of the increase in attention that rugby has attracted in Florence in past years. Indeed, rugby in Tuscany currently boasts 9,000 registered players, the fourth highest region in Italy, after regions that have a longer rugby tradition, such as Lombardy and Lazio,” commented Riccardo Bonaccorsi, president of the FIR Tuscan regional committee.
Fiorentina leases the Franchi stadium for its home games, and in November the Serie A season will be in full motion. In the past, the soccer club has had problems with the conditions of the turf following contingent events, such as concerts, which have taken place mid-season. In this case, this does not appear to represent a problem.
“Our only thought is to spark an amazing atmosphere with a packed stadium in a city like Florence, which has always responded with great excitement to the national team’s rugby games,” Bonaccorsi added. “Weather conditions may prove a problem, since it’s not a covered stadium, but our players are prepared to deal with these conditions.”
Three major sporting events to connect even more fans with rugby as a whole, “to increase rugby awareness as well as organizing a number of collateral events in the lead up to the big match”, but also to highlight the progress that rugby continues to make in Tuscany.
“Last season the first Tuscan female rugby team made it into Serie A, which is a fount of tremendous pride for us. Tuscany can also boast the fact that the national men’s team captain is from Prato, Edoardo Gori, who debuted in Florence in 2010 at 19 years of age and now leads the Azzurri at 26. This will undoubtedly be a moment of great emotional impact for Gori, since he prides himself of being from Tuscany.”
Contrarily to other popular sports, rugby has always devoted considerable resources to social and cultural activities. The city’s teams, in particular the Medicei and Florentia, “have always been committed to assisting social and community matters”, such as helping the nonprofit Associazione Banco Alimentare della Toscana food bank or reaching out to youngsters from less fortunate areas of the city and getting them involved in rugby.
Indeed, Bonaccorsi defines the sport as “effervescent and alive”, mostly because of the number of children who are getting involved in this sport.
“Rugby is a special sport. It is one of the few sporting disciplines in which people can meet, where the aim is not just athletic but also a philosophical one, and this is what we want to instill in our young athletes, who understand the importance of values and respecting the rules.”
Tickets for the game between Italy and South Africa are already available and can be purchased online here.