Padel, from Latin America, star in Italy thanks to the pandemic

The sport of shovel, one of those that has suffered few limitations in the last year of the pandemic, is experiencing a real “boom” in Italy, where until recently it had almost no relevance.

With the pandemic, Carlo Ferrara, a 50-year-old Roman, had a pleasant surprise. The sport he loves the most, paddle tennis, has reached unimaginable popularity quotas until recently in Italy. And he, thanks to this, even got a new job.

“Last December, a media specializing in sports called me and offered me a job as an editor to write about this sport which, before the pandemic, hardly anyone paid attention to in the newspapers,” he says. -he.

“The paddle has really gained a lot of presence in Italy”, adds Ferrara, who now combines this activity with that of manager of a small sports center, a blog dedicated to paddle tennis (whose name is precisely Mr. Pádel Paddle) and the post of financial analyst in a bank.

Don’t overdo it. In the big cities of Italy, like Rome or Milan, you don’t have to dig deep to find friends, relatives or acquaintances who confess to having started in the sport last year.

Some are people who did not practice any sport before. Others are former fans of other disciplines, such as amateur football or crossfit, whose practice has been very limited in Italy due to measures to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

On the contrary, since it is not a contact sport, the game of paddle tennis has not been banned in the last year of the pandemic, even in areas temporarily declared orange, those at risk medium, which coincided with a record increase in the number of players and fields dedicated to this sport.

Explosion of fans and practitioners of the sport

The figures available reflect the trend. Of the estimated 1,100 courts in 2019 across Italy, more than 2,600 are currently operating (750 are indoor courts), of which some 800 have opened so far this year.

With this, the estimated number of people who practice this sport is between 400,000 and 500,000 individuals, according to Ferrara, pointing out that 35% of them are women.

It wasn’t always like this. Padel, a sport invented in Acapulco (Mexico) in the sixties, which enjoyed incredible success in the eighties and nineties in Argentina (soccer champion Diego Armando Maradona and tennis star Gabriella Sabatini were then among the most enthusiastic), later catapulting to Spain, was long almost ignored in Italy.

In fact, despite the fact that the first paddle tennis court was inaugurated in Italy by the will of a group of Italian-Argentines in 1991 and that the Italian Paddle Game Federation was created in the same year, the total number of courts did not exceed twenty until 2013.

Today, however, the picture is different.

Technology, a great ally

Technology has played an important role in the recent success of padel, at a time when the whole galaxy of e-commerce saw its particular explosion of popularity also on the Old Continent, where before many still resisted this model.

The most obvious reflection of this is that the majority (estimated around 60%) of clubs that offer paddle tennis allow courts to be booked through ‘apps’, which do not require phone calls or contacts. prerequisites with the Personal sports center. One click is all it takes to set the time, day and, sometimes, even the desired terrain.

Alessandro Tortorici, founder of Prenota un Campo, the most popular application in Italy to book padel courts, and which merged last year with the Spanish PlayTomic, also highlights as a success factor that this tool allows to meet new people with the same level of play. with whom to share matches.

“This, added to the fact that it is a sport that is easy to learn and facilitates interaction between men and women, has contributed a lot to the social success of paddle tennis,” says Tortorici, assuring that currently between 20,000 and 22,000 people connect daily to its app.

“To say that about two years ago they were less than a third of that number,” the 35-year-old executive points out, adding that the projections they have made for the future indicate that the popularity of paddle- tennis will continue to grow. for at least another five years.

Other factors are that although it is a game inspired by tennis, its rules are considered to be much simpler, the court is smaller, the net is lower, and there is a paddle (similar to that used on the beach) instead of a racket, while much of the perimeter is covered with walls or nets to prevent the ball from coming out and having to fetch it.

With this, it is not necessary to have an extraordinary physical form, and organizing a match is less complicated since the players are only four.

Success from South to North

Pietro Sala, a paddle tennis teacher from Milan, summed it up this way in an interview with an Italian newspaper: “Why are all these people playing paddle tennis? Because it amuses, engages and brings out the child we all carry within us”.

Paradoxically, in a country traditionally characterized by a strong gap – socio-economic, but also cultural – between the south and the north, paddle tennis has developed in a homogeneous way. So much so that the first three regions in number of new courts are, in this order, Lazio (center of the country), Sicily (south) and Lombardy (north).

As if that were not enough, the Italian Luigi Carraro has been confirmed for the second time as President of the International Padel Federation.

Thus, more than a year after the start of the pandemic, demand has increased so much that now coaches (many from the world of tennis) are scarce, and investments are multiplying. Italy, however, is not alone. Sweden is another of the European countries where, according to observers, this fever is progressing at lightning speed.

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