It would be nice to start with a list of all Mirka Francia’s victories, but we’d need a whole other article to do so. Suffice to say, the Cuban volleyball player, born in 1975, (and an Italian citizen since 2004), can boast two Olympic titles and two World Championships with the Cuban national team, as well as a considerable number of trophies – national and international – won during her years playing for Sirio Perugia, in addition to several individual honours at the highest level. She has strong ties with Italy and Umbria, having chosen to live and raise a family in Perugia. On 28th October, after two years of inactivity, she decided to get back in the game playing for San Giustino.
by Andrea Tafini / ph: Marco Bigozzi – art metis
Your return to volleyball has been rather unexpected. Why did you choose San Giustino?
Mirka Francia: «I was recalled by my love of the game. I felt that I wanted to start over, and then I met Antonio Leonardi, (Dg of San Giustino Volleyball) who’d also played in the A1 league. We had an instant rapport and I chose to come and play here. Obviously it’s very different from playing at the highest levels, but it’s an organized club with a strong urge to do well, and the work is good».
Obviously there are considerable differences between your years in the A1 league with Perugia and the B1 level of San Giustino. Is your approach to a game the same?
Mirka Francia: «For a player every game is a new start; you always want to win when you get on court. If you’re a genuine player, your mind stays professional; neither your age nor the competition count».
How do you put your years at the world class level behind you?
Mirka Francia: «You know I‘ve asked myself the same thing so many times? (Laughs). I won so much. When I look at all my trophies and medals, I get a shiver. I have such wonderful memories, both from the national team and the club; I couldn’t tell you which victory was more exciting because they were all equally thrilling».
You came to Italy for the first time in 1998, to Florence, and then during your nine years in Perugia you became an Italian citizen. Thinking back, what was your first impression of our country?
Mirka Francia: «From a volleyball point of view, very strong. In Cuba there’s no club championship like there is here, there’s only the national team. I found a different, more open mentality about sport in Italy, with more opportunities, and this made me grow. Generally, I liked it here straight away – it’s a country that generously welcomes everyone. I lived in Perugia for years and I feel Umbrian as well as Italian».
Do you still have ties with Cuba? Do you go back very often?
Mirka Francia: «Yes, I still have my family and lots of friends there. The barriers with much of the world have been overcome, and fortunately much has changed. You can easily come and go. To be a part of both Cuba and Italy is great».
As you say, many things have changed in Cuba and are likely to continue to do so in light of the recent rapprochement with the United States. What do you envision for the future?
Mirka Francia: «The rapprochement with the United States is good, especially for the people. We can finally live with more peace and economic freedom. The embargo has weighed on the shoulders of the people; I remember all the past suffering, which still exists to a degree. Until the embargo is permanently lifted, the problem won’t be permanently solved. I hope this will be the case, and fingers crossed that this long chapter will close. But Cuba, even if it were to drop this last barrier, will never become a madly capitalist country. The Cuban system will always be united; socialism with more freedom».
Even though you’re in great shape and will no doubt accumulate bruises for several more years, what plans do you have post-volleyball?
Mirka Francia: «Eh! Many more years (laughing)… it would be great to pass on what I’ve learnt to other players or teams, but one step at a time. One of the reasons I started playing again was to try and get an Umbrian women’s team into the A league. Umbria deserves a high-level team and the technical and professional ability exists here to be able to achieve this».
What would you say if you wanted to convince kids to play volleyball?
Mirka Francia: «First of all I’d tell them volleyball is fun! And, that it can give you so much from the teamwork ‘and socializing point of view. Volleyball helps you grow and brings wisdom to your life. It’s not important to make it at a competitive level like I did; just to play».