Viva Italia as Touch plans on a January restart

Nov. 28, 2020 @ 0:00 UTC

In the short-term, Touch in Italy is expected to resume in early January. Longer-term, the sport is focused on winning some of the hearts and minds of the nation's football-obsessed youth.

Veronica Allaria is a testament to the inclusive nature of the sport of Touch. She comes from a rugby playing family however due to a shoulder injury she was unable to play full-contact sport. She discovered Touch in her hometown of Milan, which is in the Lombardy region of northern Italy, ten years ago. She represented Italy in the Mixed Open at the 2011 World Cup in Scotland, the first World Cup Italy ever competed in. Veronica spoke to Adam Collins from the Federation of International Touch (FIT), in a recent episode of ‘Set of Six’, along with the Vice President of Italia Touch Riccardo Ronzoni.  

Touch stalled by Coronavirus

The Lombardy region was ground zero for the COVID-19 pandemic in Europe. This tragedy has seen 1.48 million positive cases in Italy so far, with 52,000 deaths. There are still over 20,000 positive cases recorded daily in Italy. This situation has led to the cancellation of all Touch tournaments for the rest of the year according to Riccardo Ronzoni “The government has been quite strict on the rules for sporting activities in general and so touch at the moment is stalled.” Some training has resumed and “Hopefully we can restart in January next year,” said Riccardo.

Touch can show rugby a thing or two

Touch in Italy, a country of 60 million people, is most popular in the rugby playing areas of the north. The cities and surrounds of Venice, Turin and Milan are Touch strongholds. The sport is still in its infancy with the first Italian Championships taking place only 11 years ago. According to Riccardo, only 6 teams took part in that tournament but now Italy has about 500 players. “[This] is good for a country like Italy where football is a religion.” Keenly aware of the complementary relationship between Touch and rugby and the historical underperformance of the Italian national rugby team, Riccardo lamented the fact that Touch did not come to Italy earlier. “If the rugby players had played Touch before, our national rugby team would definitely be better.”

Collaborate with rugby schools 

Italia Touch is aware of the importance of youth development to the future growth of the sport. Riccardo Ronzoni acknowledged that it was difficult to convince schools to adopt Touch into the sporting curriculum. His strategy is to concentrate on persuading schools in which rugby is played to adopt Touch. “We need to go into the rugby schools and say we exist, and we can collaborate.” Rugby is not an insignificant sport in Italy. It is a tier 1 rugby nation with 80,000 players and over 1,000 clubs. It has many rugby playing schools especially in northern areas such as Veneto. Touch is already played in this and other parts of northern Italy so gaining access for Touch in these schools is a wise strategy. 

Schools are only part of the youth development strategy. Veronica Allaria was involved as a coach in a training program for under 23 players who come together periodically to improve their skills “We are trying to involve more young people because it’s our future,” Allaria said. 

Blowing the whistle

Vice President of Italia touch Riccardo Ronzoni identified raising the standard of refereeing as an area needing attention “We need to improve the level of referees. At the moment we have just two Level 3 referees. We have no coaches for referees. It would be very good for us to have support in order to grow in this way.” Assistance in this regard is coming from Touch France and FIT has also established a program of online refereeing courses during the pandemic which is available to all member nations.

Student becomes teacher

The Italian Mixed Open team had a tough draw at the 2019 World cup in Malaysia. “We had Australia, England, Scotland and France in our pool,” said Riccardo, who was a member of the team. Riccardo recognized the benefit of being exposed to high-level competition. “You try to learn from who is better than you. It’s the only way we progress and grow up.” 

As Touch in Italy progresses step by step it is likely that at some point Italian teams will teach others a thing or two.