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SU SCAMBIO DI LINGUE PD

  • It’s august 2011, and a small group of international students male and female decide to throw a rugby ball around between them to consolidate the friendship they had formed earlier that summer while studying Italian in the city of Padova. Little do they realise it at the time, but they have just stumbled upon something that will go on to leave an indelible mark on the local cultural landscape over the decade to come. 

  • Such were the origins of Scambio di Lingue or Language Exchange a concept not unheard of in most university towns across the globe.  But this one would be different.  This one would unite Italians and non-Italians through a sport that almost nobody had heard of yet almost anybody could play.  Touch rugby, or as the Australians call it, Touch.

  • Similar to the sport from which it derives, Touch has one key difference from rugby in that the tackle is replaced by a gentle touch to any part of the body, thus allowing men and women to play together freely, unburdened by the risk of injury.

  • Such was the initial enthusiasm for this new game that the group of friends committed to meeting up every Sunday to play some more.  With them came other friends, from other places, speaking other languages.  

  • Occasionally unsure of the rules and blissfully unaware of the path that they were blazing, their progress grew steadily culminating in 2014 with a decision to take things a little more seriously and enter the team in a tournament.  A set of jerseys was hastily ordered and a group of 12 players representing eight different countries went on to compete in that year’s Mattia Porro, a friendly tournament organised every year by Petrarca Rugby Club.  

  • In the years that followed, the jerseys changed, as did the faces, inevitably.  But the underpinning ethos of the group continued to grow, with the the Scambio ever more central to the heartbeat of Padova’s international community, a unified force both on and off the field.

  • Among the many highs and lows, one boiling hot day in the summer of 2016 stood out from the rest. Pitted against the local heavy-weights in a momentous final, the Scambio held firm under the Treviso sun to claim its first ever tournament victory. With no two accents the same in a team of 11 players, it was a triumph of everything that the group believed in, and a confirmation of the potential yet to be explored.

  • By 2018, the Scambio had taken things on further still, having affiliated itself with Excelsior 1929, Padova’s oldest rugby club, who herself was on the comeback trail following 20 years of inactivity.

  • With improved training facilities and ever-increasing playing numbers, the time had come to enter the country’s most culturally-diverse sporting team into the Italian National Championship (Italia Touch), something no team from Padova had ever previously done. Success was immediate.

  • In the 2018/’19 season, the Scambio finished in 5th position out of 26 teams, and also claimed a prestigious award from the league council acclaiming the mas the “squadra rivelazione”.  From relative unknows to title-contenders, the team, quite simply, had been a revelation.

  • Along the way, the Scambio had participated in 10 stages (ie one-day touraments) and used a total of 26 players from 14 different countries (Argentina, Australia, China, England, France, Germany, Italy, Iran, Ireland, Portugal, Serbia, Spain, USA, Venezuela).  It had more registered female players than male, and the squad had an average age of just 24.

  • By now, the Scambio was also competing simultaneously in the “Serenissima”, a regional competition comprised of teams from Veneto only.  Less demanding than the national championship, this mini-league was used as a means of exposing new players to competitive action.  Here, the Scambio finished in third position out of 12 teams in its inaugural season having competed in 7 different stages. 

  • And so onto the 2019/’20 season, the most recently completed, albeit only partially …

  • The record books will show that the Scambio finished the national championships in 2nd place, though it will forever remain a year of what-ifs.  When the Corona Virus forced Italy to shut down, this unique team had been on the cusp of a wave.

  • It had just won a tournament in Rome, and was poised to host what would have been the first ever official Italia Touch tournament within the city walls of Padova. The tournament was scheduled for April 25th, Italian liberation day.  

  • Had life not been so cruelly interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic, that particular date would have represented the crowning moment in the evolution of a movement that had itself proved liberating for so many.

  • From a group of friends in the park, to its very own tournament at the elite end of touch rugby in Italy.

  • But so it was, and here we are over a year later, limited to online fitness training and quizzes. The silver lining in all of this came with the advent of video-conferencing, which has enabled us to connect with so many former players who are now dotted around the world having returned to their homes.

  • A link with the past has been re-established, and it is precisely because of this that the Scambio di Lingue is more driven than ever before to fulfil its promise and continue to promote integration through sport.

  • Like so many others right now, we don’t know exactly what tomorrow will bring.  But after a decade of success against the odds, we do know that we’ll be ready for it.