Italian sports are often eclipsed by the country's historical achievements in the arts and other fields, but, in fact, Italy has a long sporting tradition, and both individual and team games are popular throughout the country. The top Italian sports are currently auto racing and soccer, followed by basketball, rugby, cricket, tennis, fencing, winter sports, and cycling. Its warm climate makes Italy an ideal location for outdoor sporting activities while the alpine regions are ideal for winter sports.
Although Italians display a great enthusiasm for all sports, soccer has been elevated to a national obsession. So here is a brief introduction to the most popular Italian ball games:
1. Football (Soccer)
Traditional Italian Ball Games
Soccer, arguably the most popular of Italian sports, originated in Florence in the late 1500s. Its original name, Giuoco del Calcio Fiorentino (or Florentine kick game), eventually became simply calcio, the Italian name for soccer. In more recent history, the Italian soccer team won the World Cup four times – in 1934, 1938, 1982 and 2006 – and also won the 1968 European Nations Cup and a gold medal at the 1936 Olympic games. Italian football teams have won approximately 20 top-level European football competitions, and dominate the UEFA Cup with 9 wins and 6 runner-up positions. The Italian soccer team is ranked number two in the world after Brazil, which has five World Cup victories to Italy's four.
Football season in Italy commences in the last week of August and continues until June the following year. Each major city has at least one football team, sometimes two.
A number of Italian football players have achieved legendary status. Vittorio Pozzo lead his team to World Cup victories in 1934 and 1938. Dino Zoff was captain of the team that won the World Cup in 1982, and is considered the all-time greatest Italian goalkeeper. Macro Tardelli became famous as a midfielder for the Turin team Juventus. Franco Baresi made his name as a winning defender during the 1960s, and Roberto Baggio scored goals in three World Cup tournaments, and was subsequently voted Italy's top footballer by Italian sports fans.
2. Rugby Union
Although rugby is not as popular as football in Italy, the Italian national team has competed at international events since the late 1920s, including the Rugby World Cup. Beginning in the early 1900s, Italian Rugby attracts a growing number of spectators each year, particularly in the northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto.
Italy's 1000 plus rugby clubs are composed of almost 75,000 registered male players and 8,000 female players. It's believed that rugby had its origins in two ancient Roman games known as harpastum and trigon, which were introduced in Britain at the time of the Roman Empire.
Very few people associate basketball with Italy, but surprisingly it's one of the nation's fastest growing sports. While other nations have eclipsed Italy's early dominance of basketball in Europe, the Italian basketball league (Lega Basket Serie A), founded in 1920, remains one of the top leagues on the continent and ranks as third best in the world after the NBA of America and the ACB of Spain. The Italian team won gold medals at Eurobasket 1983 and 1999, and a silver medal at the 2004 Olympic games.
Many outstanding Italian players have been signed by the NBA, including Andrea Bargnani (Toronto Raptors), Vincenzo Esposito (Toronto Raptors), Danilo Gallinari (Denver Nuggets), Stefano Rusconi (Cleveland Cavaliers, Phoenix Suns) and Marco Stefano (New Orleans Hornets).
Cricket has been played in Italy since at least the 1700s but was gradually eclipsed by football. In 1980 the Italian Cricket Federation was formed, and the Italian cricket team began competing internationally. The team participates regularly in international matches, winning several European Cricket tournaments and earning a rank of 25th place worldwide. They achieved 3rd, 2nd, and 4th place in the 2008-2011 World Cricket League tournaments, and 5th and 6th places in the 2006-2010 European Championships.
The popularity of cricket continues to rise throughout the country.
Some of Italy's more traditional ball games are now finding a wider audience. Here are a few that are gaining in polarity worldwide:
Other ball games that are popular in Italy include tennis, golf and volleyball. But they pale into insignificance beside the Italian love affair with speed. To read more about this, please visit the Italian Sports: Racing page.
This is an assortment of team ball games which have been played in Italy since 1555. Over the centuries the games have evolved into a number of variations, such as palla elastica, pallapugno, pallapugno leggera, pallone col bracciale and tamburello. These games are played regularly on a national basis, as well as internationally.
Perhaps the most well known of traditional Italian ball games is bocce, a form of lawn bowling whose roots stretch back to the Roman Empire. It is popular in Europe and other countries where Italian migrants have settled. Umberto Granaglia (1931–2008) was a champion bocce player who was voted 'Player of the Twentieth Century' by the Confédération Mondiale des Sports de Boules. Over the course of his long career, Granaglia won a record 46 Italian National Championships, 12 European Championship titles, and 13 World Championships.
3. Cue Sports
The Italians also enjoy a number of cue sports played on a traditional billiard table. Five pins, nine pins, boccete and goriziana are among the most popular versions of the sport. An increasing number of people compete on the national circuit as well as in international tournaments.