The Italian Rugby Federation (FIR) has signed an agreement in principle to become a shareholder of Celtic Rugby, the body which runs the Guinness Pro14 cross-border competition.
The agreement will likely ensure Italian clubs Benetton and Zebre continue to compete in the Guinness Pro14 until 2023. It also provides commitments “around increased funding and upgrading of facilities for the clubs”.
Italian clubs were introduced to the Celtic competition of Irish, Welsh, Scottish and South African clubs in 2010, with Treviso, who are now named Benetton, and Aironi the first representatives. Parma-based Zebre replaced Aironi for the 2012-13 season but there has been a lot of speculation about the future of the Italian teams in the competition, who have consistently been around the bottom of the table and suffered from financial problems.
Alfredo Gavazzi, FIR president, said: “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. 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.”
Martin Anayi, Pro14 Rugby chief executive, said: “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.”