THE ITALIAN RUGBY FEDERATION (FIR) and PRO14 Rugby announced yesterday (Tuesday) that an agreement in principle will see the FIR become a shareholder of Celtic Rugby in the coming year, which will this ensure that two Italian teams – currently Benetton and Zebre – will compete in the Guinness PRO14 until 2023 and provides commitments around increased funding and upgrading of facilities.
“Subject to the FIR fulfilling certain conditions, this new deal will represent a significant step forward for both Italian rugby and PRO14 Rugby and lays out a pathway to build upon the recent success of Benetton Rugby and Zebre Rugby Club in the Guinness PRO14,” said yesterday’s statement.
FIR President Alfredo Gavazzi explained why it was important for Italy to become a shareholder in the league, which has unashamedly grand ambitions of expansion across the globe.
“Being part of Guinness PRO14 is crucial to continue increasing the strength of elite rugby in Italy, and we are thrilled to be joining PRO14 Rugby on the same footing as our partners,” he said. “Right from the very start of my first stint as FIR President, I underlined that the ambition of becoming a legitimate partner was vital, and I’m glad we’ve finally achieved it.
“I’d wish to thank Martin Anayi [PRO14 Rugby CEO] and his organisation for strongly believing in Italian rugby and I’m sure that this new deal will give a further boost to our participation, on and off the field.”
Anayi said: “Over the past three years the Guinness PRO14 has been transforming on and off the pitch and all of our stakeholders have played a key role in this success. Italian rugby has always offered great potential, but now in the past 12 months we have seen tangible signs of that with both Benetton Rugby and Zebre enjoying record-win seasons in the Guinness PRO14 last season.
“I give great credit to Alfredo and the FIR for recruiting Conor O’Shea as national coach and his staff to drive up standards on the playing side and we have already seen the evidence of his influence at club level. Our Championship needs 14 strong teams to ensure that we continue to offer exciting and competitive rugby to our supporters.
“To see the FIR and its clubs begin to realise their ambitions is very encouraging and from that point of view it is only right that they should become a partner alongside the Welsh, Scottish and Irish unions.”