Italian rugby chief wades into euro row
September 20, 2012
Alfredo Gavazzi succeeded Giancarlo Dondi as president of the Italian Rugby Federation (FIR) last weekend © Getty Images
New Italian Rugby Federation (FIR) president Alfredo Gavazzi has urged all parties to work together to find an amicable solution to the row over the future of the Heineken Cup.
The stakeholders of the European club game met in Dublin this week in an attempt to thrash out a new agreement with Premiership Rugby intent on forcing a re-structuring of the competition. England's leading clubs claim to generate the bulk of the revenue enjoyed by all six countries that participate in both the Heineken Cup and the Amlin Challenge Cup but argue they are not rewarded accordingly and that the current qualification system also favours RaboDirect PRO12 clubs.
The debate intensified last week with Premiership Rugby announcing a "ground-breaking" broadcast deal with BT that includes the exclusive rights to European games from the 2014-15 by which point the current agreement governing both competitions will have expired. That move was countered by European Rugby Cup (ERC) who agreed an extension to their own exclusive broadcast deal with Sky Sports with the terms appearing to clash with Premiership Rugby's attempt to go it alone.
The latest talks ended without any resolution to the dispute although an ERC statement said talks had been "productive". A further meeting is set to take place in Rome on October 8 with Gavazzi hopeful it will prove productive.
"We are confident that a solution will be found as soon as possible," said Gavazzi. "We are convinced the only way the European competitions will enjoy further success and cope with the increasing competition from other major sport events is if the Unions stick together and advance shoulder to shoulder"
"But it is crystal clear that a change can't be pushed through by some unilateral act of provocation," he warned. "Italian rugby will battle for its two places in the Heineken Cup and its four spots in the Amlin Challenge Cup as well as its share of the ERC revenues as the other as the other celtic Unions will."
The founder and owner of Rugby Calvisano, Gavazzi was appointed the new FIR president last weekend. The 62-year-old Brescia businessman succeeds Giancarlo Dondi whose 16-year spell in charge witnessed unprecedented growth for Italian rugby.
Gavazzi won his political battle with almost 55% of the votes cast to defeat Benetton Treviso's chairman Amerino Zatta and the Sicilian federation's president Gianni Amore with more than 92% of Italian clubs voting in what could proved to be one of the most important moments of the country's rugby history.
"I'm really honoured to be at the helm of a growing organisation that still has a plenty of room to grow," offered an emotional Gavazzi in his first speech as FIR president. "There's a lot to do to fulfil Italian rugby's incredible potential and we need the contribution of every rugby person in the country to build an even brighter future.
"I thank all the people who voted for me, but also the ones that have not, as they enriched the political battle with some very good ideas and proposals. We need now to work together and make sure Italian rugby will reach maturity and success."
Dondi was also elected FIR Honorary President and the 77-year-old received a long and warm standing ovation from all the parties as a tribute for his peerless service. Dondi took over in 1996 from Maurizio Mondelli and has been the driving force of the rugby amazing growth in popularity, and this in a football-obsessed country.
Under Dondi's charge, Italian rugby convinced the Five Nations Championship administrators to allow the Azzurri to join them in 2000. Additionally, under Dondi's watch Italy came close to winning the bid to host the 2015 Rugby World Cup - they eventually lost out to England by just three votes.
Membership of the FIR also quadrupled - growing from 26,000 to almost 100,000 while the Federation's revenue grew from €4m to almost €40m. Dondi was also the first Italian to be elected to both the International Rugby Board Council and the IRB Executive Committee and has became one of the most respected personalities in the international rugby community thanks to his hard graft for his country.
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