By Joel Morgan, Date: 27/6/13

It has been four years since the dramatic formation of the Federazione Italiana Rugby Football League (originally IRFL until a small change due to Italian sports policy) in 2010. They say from humble beginnings a tree grows, well the seed was planted by current FIRFL President Davide Massitti, with Matteo Visona and “rugby league godfather” (as he is involved in every facet) Gladiators Roma President Pierluigi Gentile, who through his rugby contacts organised the original three foundation clubs in Gladiators Roma, whom he also coaches, Magnifici Firenze (Luigi Ferraro and Marco Matteini) and Spartans Catania (Massimo Nicotra).

After four years of work, the rugby tredici roots have formed with a national championship named the “r-Evolution League” growing from 5 clubs in 2012 to 9 clubs in three separate groups (North, Central and South) for 2013 with Reggio Emilia, Firenze, Pesaro, Roma, Frosinone, Ceprano, Belpasso, Catania and Palermo fielding clubs.

The championship throughout its existence has had international, national or regional television coverage of the Grand Final, 2013 Coppa Italia and season launches, not any small feat for a new amateur sport and federation! In 2013, it will be at its strongest with more matches played and the regular rounds increased before finals. Through a three system development structure consisting of Campionato, Coppa and Development, the FIRFL has grown to 56 affiliated clubs.

It doesn’t stop there the federation the past year has begun junior (youth) and femminile (women’s) movements with three women’s rugby league 9’s teams (CUS, Red e Blu and a uni side) in a mini tournament last year in Rome. Plus a three team women’s rugby league 9’s tournament (Frascati, CUS and Red e Blu) at the first International Lazio Rugbeer event, formed through Pierluigi Gentile jointly with Frascati Rugby and FIRFL, who he has worked for from mid 2013, while further the new Celtic Irish Ceprano club has fielded a team in a 7’s tournament and have a hand full of women’s players currently regularly training with the men’s rugby league sessions so have potential for 9’s activity in future.

The first junior club teams were launched last year with three u16 teams from Gladiators, Lazio Rugby and Magnifici. In 2013, two u16 teams from Rome again played, but this time in the Lazio Rugbeer tournament, while on June 15 the Falchi Rugby League Franchise formed an u14 side played at Misano against the first ever rugby league side from the republic of San Marino with the Bats u14s.

In a recent interview Gentile stated “From 2009 to today we had exponential growth of participants from 200 in the first year, we went to over 2000 this year, for all participants in our activities. This remarkable and sudden growth, and (has been) somewhat unexpected of our movement, which has meant that even CONI has been noticing us.

This allowed us to make the official request of an observatory to become a Disciplina Sportiva Associata with CONI. Our simple goal is to promote more and more this beautiful sport, and begin to spread further, as it is already happening, even through the junior categories. In addition, no less important, is our commitment to promote this sport in the social aspects. In fact, we have already been able to arrange positive sports projects in prisons like the one carried out in the prison in Frosinone, or with children with hearing disabilities (Isis Magarotto). Of course, we are ready and determined to cast of others because we strongly believe that sport is a great way to make us feel all equal, and better.”

The first international under the FIRFL was played in Reggio Calabria on May 25 between our Italia XIII and a Barbarian Warriors RL side, won by the Azzurri 26 to 4 in front 1000 spectators. Without mentioning figures the sponsorship Gentile and Massitti were able to obtain for the National XIII and Gladiators Roma is quite impressive with three major sponsors (Sagad, Codelife and AKAI) attracted for the first international played. The federation were able to organise a strong support team led by English based Ty Sterry as head coach (able to speak Italian), Tino Magri (assistant from Sicilia), Riccardo Marini (respected manager), Guido Porcellini (sports medical officer with professional and national experience) and Luciano Gorla (Athlete Preparation).

A lot of my contact prior to arriving in Italy had been with Gentile, since being here I have learnt he has not only played for the two separate Azzurri XIII national line ups, but the Italian Rugby 7’s and Italia A Rugby XV national teams combine this with contacts, his passion and progress achieved it might be fair to say he is another “Dane Campbell” type character involved in Rugby League.

This should prove this federation’s people are committed to providing a strong movement to progress our great game like any others. I know that is more evident first hand in the past 5 weeks.