Pierluigi Gentile, the head of the Lega Italiana Rugby Football League (LIRFL), has spoken out to calm fears that his body is in any way ‘selling out’ to rugby union.
As reported earlier on Love Rugby League, the LIRFL has linked up with the Italian rugby union authorities, the FIR, in order to better exploit resources and opportunities.
The link was also essential in securing recognition for rugby league from the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI), something which the official rugby league body in Italy, the FIRL, would have struggled to do.
But Gentile is at pains to stress that there are now no links between the FIR and the LIRFL. Instead, the LIRFL is officially associated with CONI.
Now that they have CONI approval, the intention, they insist, is to strike out on their own.
“I think it is important that the RLIF understand that we have not sold our souls to rugby union,” said Gentile.
“It seems to me that people do still miss the point. CONI govern all sport in Italy and as you know this leads to funding to support development.
“CONI directed myself and the president of rugby union to come to an agreement so that all forms of rugby could be supported.
“To have the CONI seal of approval this could have only been made by putting rugby under one umbrella.”
Gentile stresses that CONI influence on Italian sport as a whole is massive. The body governs all sport in Italy, and it would be impossible, Gentile asserts, for rugby league to thrive without CONI’s approval.
“The RLIF cannot govern or operate rugby league on Italian soil properly without this support,” he added.
“This is evidenced by the lack of increase in participation as a result of the 2013 World Cup.
“Why did the FIRL not make the most of this? CONI will guarantee help for us to grow and this is what is important.”
The head of the ‘rebels’ is also keen to stress that the focus of his body is very much on domestic development, and working to promote the game within Italy itself.
The ultimate aim, he maintains, is for there ultimately to be one unified rugby league governing body in Italy.
“We now take the decision to promote our Italian coaches to guide our national team now,” he said.
“We’re committed to Italian players being developed by Italians on Italian soil.
“We have no argument with FIRL and want to unify.”