Italy captain Manuela Furlan believes centralised contracts are an important first step for the future of Italian rugby.
Twenty-five players, including Furlan, were rewarded with contracts by the FIR yesterday, divided into three brackets, with players spending between 80 and 130 days with the national team per year, as Italy prepare for the Rugby World Cup in the autumn.
The part-time professional contracts are due to replace or supplement the scholarship project developed for the Italian Women’s national team in December 2020.
Over €350,000 will be invested by the FIR into the Italian squad, in what will be a rolling one-year contract that will be reviewed each year.
But while Furlan, 33, thanked the FIR for introducing the contracts and allowing players to focus more of their time on rugby, she insisted there is still a lot of work to be done.
She said: “It’s a very important first step and it means a lot in terms of trust as per the FIR’s side, and it means a lot in terms of responsibilities from the athlete’s side.
“We are grateful to the FIR for having made this decision, but we need to keep on working together – both with the athletes being available, and the FIR continuing to invest on the athletes themselves.”
Italy are one of 12 teams who will be heading to New Zealand in the autumn for the 2021 Women’s Rugby World Cup and Furlan expects the move towards professionalism will only help the Italian squad.
“It will make a lot of difference in terms of responsibilities, the amount of preparation required, and the trust from the board which is important,” said Furlan
“But we can still improve this as a first step because some players will still have jobs and be athletes at the same time.
“Our hope firstly would be to get more and more girls involved in our sport, and maybe to increase the numbers of athletes that decide to approach rugby – so that there can be a wider access for young people to play rugby.
“After that, maybe the first step will be a push for a wider number of girls to start a career in rugby in Italy.”
Furlan admits Italian players took inspiration from England and France, and more recently Wales, who all have central contracts of their own, in their own push for professionalism, but when she first picked up a rugby ball, it is not something she ever thought possible.
She added: “I would have never imagined that (we would be professionals), but since other teams have done it, this is something that we were absolutely aiming for.
“Every athlete’s dream is making the sport they play a job and I’m wishing that in the future this will become our full-time job.”
Former Italian second row Francesca Gallina, who is now the chair of Rugby Europe’s Women’s Sub-Committee and a board member with the FIR, believes this is the right time for Italian rugby to make the move, with the Rugby World Cup looming for Andrea Di Giandomenico’s side.
She said: “This is a very special year for the international players, since a great amount of time is requested to the players involved in the TikTok Women’s Six Nations and in the 2021 Rugby World Cup.
“They will spend more than 100 days training and playing rugby with the national team, and as the FIR we felt the urgency of helping them to keep together their private life, academic or professional, and their life as rugby players.
“That’s the reason we decided to help them in settling every aspect of their lives, and offered a central contract that can be an effective support for both those who have a job and for those who study.
“We hope contracts will give them the opportunity to train and play, to work and to study, with more serenity and concentration.”
The TikTok Women’s Six Nations is more accessible than ever before. To find out how you can watch the Women’s Championship visit: womens.sixnationsrugby.com/tv/