Sicilian Scrum: One Italian Rugby Club is Standing Up to the Mafia

May 11, 2022 226


Fifteen minutes into the biggest game of his life, Alessio Panebianco saw the looks in his teammates’ eyes and realized: We’re gonna lose. This was on a sunny afternoon in December at the Stadio Giuseppe Rizzo in Catania, Sicily, at the foot of Mount Etna. Panebianco’s team, Briganti di Librino, was in its first-ever playoff, against San Gregorio, and the winner would climb to the third tier of Italy’s rugby pyramid, Serie B.

Victory, though, would mean more than just deliverance to a higher division—it would be salvation from a year when Briganti came under siege from sinister outside forces. The club fields boys and girls teams at almost every age level, providing those players with a crucial path away from criminal activity. And that outlet, it seems, has not gone over particularly well with Sicily’s feared Mafia, the Cosa Nostra. Because the club offers an alternative to mob life, “they hate Briganti,” says Simone Olivelli, a crime reporter with Italy’s MeridioNews.

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