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Culture and Society: Sports


Italians have a long sporting history dating back to the Gladiatorial games held in ancient Rome. Today, soccer is followed with much fanfare throughout the country, and game day traffic jams on Sunday afternoons are very common. The love for soccer sometimes borders on the extreme in Italy, with some matches having led to riots in the past. Italy has won soccer’s World Cup four times in 1934, 1938, 1982, and 2006.

Winter sports are very popular, especially in the Alps. Sports is imbibed in the Italian way of life, which is reflected in festivals like the Palio, a horse race held twice a year, and Gondola race (regatta), celebrated in Venice every September.

Basketball and cycling are also very popular. The Giro d'Italia is a major cycling event that is eagerly anticipated. The coastline and the northern lakes are locations where Italians enjoy windsurfing, sailing, and other water sports. Other popular sports include water polo, rugby, running, auto racing, and winter sports.

Individual Sport Participation

Italians now take physical fitness very seriously. Fitness centers are frequented, with people seeking out such places for holidays, thus balancing relaxation with physical wellbeing.

Sports have evolved from being perceived as simply athletics to a form of personal improvement that boosts one’s health and overall well-being. With this shift in thinking, the variety of sports that Italians indulge in has greatly increased.

As winter sports have become more popular, Italians have made their mark in Winter Olympics events like skiing and cross-country skiing. Cycling is also actively pursued. There are five major lakes in Italy that lie in close proximity to the Alps with Como, Garda, Iseo, Lugano and Maggiore, where the Italians enjoy sailing. Bocce, a kind of lawn bowling, also has a great following.

Soccer is the most popular sport and even small villages invest in stadiums that have night lighting. There are matches held between villages, regions, and neighborhoods. Children as well as older people can be commonly seen playing soccer or just kicking around a ball in local parks.

The youth in Milan seem to prefer squash over tennis as it is generally considered more fitting of their pace and lifestyle. Hiking, climbing, skiing, mountaineering, ice skating, golf, and swimming have their own ardent fans.

Private Sports Clubs

Over the years, the number of people who use gyms and private sports clubs has steadily been increasing, among both genders and all age groups. This is one of the prime factors that have resulted in an overall increase in longevity in the country.

Private Sports Clubs Listings:

S.S. Lazio
Via del foro Italico
00194 Roma
Società Sportiva Lazio (S.S. Lazio) is a club in Rome that is one of the largest sports associations in Europe. It offers facilities for 37 different kinds of sports including cricket, basketball, and parachute jumping. However, it is the men’s soccer team that has gained repute and has a fan following.

Tennis Club Cai del Moro
Via Ferruccio Parri 6
Tennis Club Cai del Moro has many floodlit tennis courts, 10 of which are open to non-members as well. The club is also equipped with a gym and a swimming pool.

Castello di Tolcinasco Golf & Country Club
Località Tolcinasco - 20090
Pieve Emanuele (Milano-Italy)
Castello di Tolcinasco Golf & Country Club is considered to be one of Italy’s elite clubs. The club has three championship golf courses, one of which is built around a magnificent 16th century castle. Other features are a swimming pool, tennis courts, bunker areas and a pitch, three putting greens, and a practice field that has 15 indoor positions and 30 outdoor positions.

Hanbury Tennis Club
12 17021 Alassio (SV)
The Hanbury Tennis Club is situated in one of the peaceful corners of Alassio, across 12 thousand meters of green, with seven championship tennis courts. The club offers lessons at different levels all round the year, and is also open to non-members.

Isla Diving
Via Cantieri s.n.
09014 Carloforte (Ca)
South Western Coast of Sardinia
Isla Diving is a world-class scuba diving center in the gorgeous and scenic southwest coast of San Pietro Island. This modern scuba diving center offers courses and guided explorations at different levels depending on familiarity and expertise.

School Sports

Italian schools concentrate on school sports that are aimed at giving students the chance to try different things, and also improve their physical well being, coordination, and talents. Most schools offer volleyball, basketball, tennis and soccer.

S.C.U.B. (Sports Club University Bolzano) is a legally recognized committee that is run by students which organizes events that include different sports like soccer, volleyball, and basketball for members, also providing private facilities like a gymnasium and swimming pool. Skiing excursions in the winter and outings in the mountains during spring are some of the activities. There are various international university tournaments that the Free University of Bolzano competes in, with participating teams from S.C.U.B.

Bocconi Sport Team encourages graduates and students to participate in sport, as a way of learning to be team players in life. There are men’s and women’s teams that regularly practice soccer, golf, swimming, water polo, basketball, scuba diving, sailing, and shooting.

The Venice University Sports Centre (Venice CUS) provides facilities at the Calle dei Guardiani for students to participate in and enjoy a wide variety of sports from judo, aerobics, personal defense, volleyball, basketball, and tennis among others. The club also periodically organizes camps and events that are held between departments.

The American University of Rome has several sports clubs like the AUR Running Club, the AUR Sea-Wolves and the AUR Girls Soccer Team.

Campionato di Calcio Delle Universita’ Romane is an intercollegiate tournament that is sponsored by the municipality of Rome. Seven universities from Rome take part in this event.

Professional Sports

Members of the Italian Rugby team are known for their competitiveness, and make Italy a tier-one nation as per the International Rugby Board. They also play domestically in the Super 10, and internationally in the Rugby World Cup, the Six Nations Championship, and the European Heineken Cup tournament. The Italian basketball team is considered to be the best in the world only after the American NBA and Spain’s ACB. It has won two European Championships, and two silver medals in the Olympics.

Cycling is also actively pursued and Italians are known to have many World Cycling Championships. The country also plays host to some of the most coveted championships in auto racing, the Italian Grand Prix being just one such example. The Italians are known for their acute sense of design and it comes as little surprise that Ferrari has won the most Formula Ones than any other manufacturer.

The national soccer team, called Azzuri and known for their blue shirts, is considered the second-best team in the world with multiple victories to their credit including four Football World Cups, one Olympic Gold Medal, five European Championships, and one European Football championship.

The National Baseball team of Italy represents the country in international tournaments, and is considered to be one of the best in Europe.

The Italian Men’s Volleyball team has been the center of attention in the international circuits due to their number of victories. They have to their credit three simultaneous World Championships and six European Championships along with one prized World Cup. 

The Italy Davis Cup team plays for the International Davis Cup tennis championship. It won the Davis Cup once in 1976 and was runners-up six times.

Francesco Totti has been considered one of the main reasons for some of Italy’s stunning soccer performances and enjoys star status and a large fan following. He is the nation’s top player, and enjoys a lot of credit for wining the 2006 FIFA World Cup.

Roberto Baggio was the best soccer player from Italy in the 1994 FIFA World Cup. His popularity also stems from the fact that he is the only Italian who has scored in three different world cups. Baggio was declared European Footballer of the Year as well as the FIFA World Player of the Year in 1993 and owns the Italian record for the highest number of goals in the World Cup as well as the best score in penalties.

Fabio Cannavaro is the captain of the Italian soccer team. He won the FIFA World Player of the Year award as well as the European Footballer of the Year award in 2006.

Christian "Bobo" Vieri is a striker who plays for the Italian Serie A club Atalanta B.C. In 24 appearances for Atlético, he scored 24 goals.

Carolina Morace is a former soccer player who scored 105 goals in the 153 matches that she played for Italy. She now coaches the Italian Women’s national team. She has over 500 goals to her credit in Italian national women's league games.

Other famous Italian soccer players are Alessandro Del Piero, Paolo Maldini and Luca Toni. Maldini is the greatest defender in world soccer and has the highest number of caps in Italy. He was one of the top ten in the 2005 FIFA World Player of the Year voting and won the UEFA Champions League in 2007.

Felice Gimondi or "The Phoenix" is a hero in the world of cycling. In 1965, he was asked to join the Salvarani team at the last minute and after winning the tour, became one of the country’s legends. He holds the record for the most number of podium finishes at nine. There is even an event that has been named in his honor, the Gran Fondo Felice Gimondi that takes place around Bergamo every year. He is one of the four cyclists to win all the three cycling championships: Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España.

Gino Bartali is an erstwhile cycling champion who won the Giro d'Italia twice as well as the Tour de France. He is still a legend in Italy.

Giacomo Agostini or "Ago" is a Grand Prix motorcycle racer who has emerged victorious in multiple world championships. In 1999, his name was added to the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1999. He has to his credit 15 Grand Prix World Championship titles in his 17-year career and 122 Grand Prix victories.

Giancarlo Fisichella or "Fisi" is a Formula One racer who is employed with the Renault team. He won the 2003 Brazilian Grand Prix.

Alberto Ascari was a racing driver who is one of the two Italians to win the Italian Formula One World Championship. Emilio Giuseppe "Nino" Farina is another racing champion who had a unique ‘straight-arm’ driving style that has been copied by many. One of his claims to fame was winning the first Formula One World Championship.

Giovanni Benvenuti is a legend in Italy in the world of boxing. He won the gold medal in the welterweight division in the 1960 Olympic Games, held in Rome. He has the distinction of never losing and winning 120 times.

Alberto Tomba, aptly nicknamed as Tomba la Bomba ("Tomba the bomb"), is a former Alpine skier. He has won three Olympic gold medals.

Deborah Compagnoni is also an Alpine Skier who has won three gold medals in the Winter Olympics. She is considered to be the finest woman skier from the country.

Another famous skier is Giorgio Rocca who won the Alpine Skiing World Cup slalom five times in a row.

Lanfranco "Frankie" Dettori is a world famous thoroughbred racehorse jockey.

Popular and Dominant Teams - Soccer
Juventus F.C. is the most successful soccer team in Italian history, having won 51 official trophies, more than any other club.

Associazione Calcio Milan is a club that is based out of Milan, Lombardy. They are one of the most popular and successful clubs in the world and have won the European Cup seven times. With this many victories, the club is allowed to wear the UEFA badge of Honor while playing Champions League matches, on their jerseys.

Internazionale Milano is a soccer club from Milan that has seen a lot of success, having won three UEFA cups and the World Championship two times.

AC Milan, Inter, and Juventus have large fan followings in Italy, and competition is fierce between these teams. The rivalry between AC Milan and Inter is especially heated since Inter is known to have broken off from AC Milan.

Popular and Dominant Teams - Rugby
Benetton Rugby Treviso and Amatori Rugby Milano are the top rugby teams in Italy. Benetton Rugby Treviso has won the national title 12 times and the Italian Cup three times.

Popular and Dominant Teams - Basketball
The rivalry between Pallacanestro Varese and Olimpia Milano is the most intense in the world of Italian basketball.

The Italian National Women’s soccer team reached the finals of the European Championship in 1997.

The Women’s Volleyball team is considered to be very strong, emerging in fourth place in the FIVB Women’s World Championship in 2006.

The Women’s National Beach Handball team finished third in the 2004 Beach Handball World Championships and eighth in 2006.

The Italian National Women’s Ice Hockey team, nicknamed "Blue Ladies," is ranked 11th in the world.

Raffaella Reggi is a former tennis champion from Italy. Her biggest wins were the Italian Open in 1985, and U.S. Open in 1986 (mixed doubles).

Soccer player Carolina Morace scored 105 goals in the 153 matches that she played for Italy. She now coaches the Italian Women’s national team. She has over 500 goals to her credit in Italian national women's league games.

Alpine skier Deborah Compagnoni won three gold medals in the Winter Olympics.

Major Spectator Sporting Events

Serie A (Soccer)
: August to May
Location: Venues all over Italy
Description: Serie A is considered the best of the Italian Football League, which is the top division soccer league in the country, on par with Spanish La Liga and the English Premier League. The top four teams that emerge from the league get to play the UEFA Champions League while the three lowest placed teams are relegated to Serie B.

Italian Super Cup (Soccer)
: August
Location: Venues all over Italy
Description: The Italian Super Cup is held a week before soccer season begins in Italy. It is normally held in August every year between the winners of Serie A and the Coppa Italia.

Viareggio Tournament (Soccer)
: Monday after the first Carnival Sunday to the Monday after the third Carnival Sunday
Location: Viareggio, Tuscany
Description: Also known as the Carnival Cup (Coppa Carnevale), the Viareggio Tournament is one of the most important soccer youth tournaments.

Italian Grand Prix (Gran Premio d'Italia) (Motor Racing)
Date: September
Location: Monza
Description: The Italian Grand Prix is one of the longest-running events on the motor racing calendar.

Serie A (Basketball)
Date: May
Location: Venues all over Italy
Description: This is the top basketball league in the nation, which determines the national champion. Olimpia Milano has the most championships of the 18 teams in the league with 25. Benetton Treviso and Fortitudo (Climamio) Bologna are the other top teams in this league.

Serie A Ice Hockey
Date: January, February
Location: Venues all over Italy
Description: This is the highest level of professional ice hockey in Italy, under the guidelines of the Federazione Italiana Sport del Ghiaccio (FISG).

Serie A1 (Baseball)
Date: April to September
Location: Venues all over Italy
Description: This is the top tier event for baseball in the country and takes places under the authority of FIBS. There are 10 teams that play 54 games in the period between April and September. The League champion qualifies for the European Cup.

Gran Premio Merano (Horse Racing)
: September
Location: Maia Racecourse, Merano, Italy
Description: The Gran Premio Merano is an international Grade I horse race that is held in September at the Maia Racecourse in Merano every year for horses four years or over.

Rome Masters (Tennis)
Location: Rome
Description: Previously known as the Italian Open, the Rome Masters is a tennis tournament that is held every year in Rome. The competition for Men is an ATP Masters Series event, and the competition for women is a Tier 1 event on the WTA tour. This is an event that is played on clay courts and is considered to be the most prestigious tennis tournament after the French Open.

Giro d'Italia (Cycling)
May or early June
Location: In and around Italy
Description: This is an important professional long distance bicycle race and is one of the three prestigious races along with the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España that last for three weeks each.

Tour of Lombardy (Giro di Lombardia) (Cycling)
: Autumn
Location: Lombardy
Description: The Giro di Lombardia is a cycle racing event held during the autumn season. The race takes place in the Lombardy region as a part of the UCI ProTour. Madonna del Ghisallo, a small religious shrine and museum, is a popular obstacle during this tour.