For years, there have been stories circulating around on social media platforms that Congress leader Sonia Gandhi had an affair with an Italian footballer identified as Franco Luison. It all started after Italian magazine Gente reportedly published an interview of the late footballer in 2004.
Luison talked about his alleged 4-year affair with Sonia (then-Antonia Maino) before she met former Prime Minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi. As the affair happened before Sonia Gandhi adopted the name, we will refer to her as Antonia Maino.
The footballer recalled that both the families were happy with the relationship, and her parents often hosted him at their home in Orbassano near Turin. Franco and Antonia had met for the first time at the seashore of Jesolo in the 1960s. At that time, she was only 14 years old, and Franco was 26. He said, “I used to go to Orbasano to meet her. Her family always received me with great pleasure and courtesy. Would remain with her until Tuesday before return for the practice.”
Antonia was not interested in Football and rarely went to the stadium to see Franco in action, the footballer had claimed. They used to go to Vicenza for weekends. Franco said she wanted him to promise her marriage, but he postponed it every time. Later, Antonia was sent to England by her parents for her studies. Franco was not happy with the decision.
In England, she met Rajiv Gandhi. Though she used to tell Franco about everything she was doing, by the interview, it seems she never mentioned Rajiv in the letters. It was only after coming for a vacation that she told Franco about Rajiv and informed him that she was invited to India to meet his mother, Indira Gandhi, who later became Prime Minister of India. When Antonio went back to Italy, she was convinced that she would marry Rajiv, said Franco.
He added it was hurtful, but they departed in a gentle manner. Franco stayed in touch with Antonia’s family. Nora, wife of Franco, said, “I was jealous of Sonia, for all his friends used to speak about her when I started our relationship in late 1964. I was afraid one day Sonia would come back, and I will lose Franco!”
Speculations around the authentication of the story
OpIndia tried to dig more about the alleged affair between Sonia Gandhi and the Italian footballer before she met Rajiv Gandhi. There were only a few blog posts that talked about the story claiming it was a translation of the interview Franco gave to the Italian magazine. Other than that, there was not much information available either about the affair or the footballer. There were only blog posts here, here, here and here that were copied from a single source that narrated the story.
We found only one reference similar to the interview. In 2013, Egidio Zampese, a freelance journalist, had told Ilsussidiario.net about an incident when he saw Sonia Gandhi (then-Antonia Maino) with the footballer. Zampese lived close to Sonia Gandhi’s parent’s residence in Lusiana. He had said, “I remember meeting her one afternoon in the 1970s: she was with her friend Franco Luison, a former Vicenza goalkeeper, while they had an aperitif in a bar. I wanted to photograph them, but she didn’t want to. So I only photographed him, who also gave me his autograph. But we also stopped to talk, she told me where she was born, and then we chatted about this and that, we are almost the same age, we only have three years of difference.”
It is true that there was a footballer by the name of Franco Luison. However, neither an archive nor any online version of the story was found during research. Congress and Gandhi’s family have always maintained silence when it comes to Sonia’s family and life before meeting and marrying Rajiv Gandhi.
OpIndia has sent an email to Hearst publication that publishes the magazine Gente in which the interview allegedly got published. If and when we get a reply from them, we will update the story. As of now, OpIndia can neither confirm nor deny the claims that Sonia Gandhi had dated an Italian Footballer before meeting Rajiv Gandhi.