Azzurro (literally, azure) is the national Italian color. The light blue color, together with the tricolore, is a symbol of Italy.
The origins of the color date back to 1366, when the Conte Verde, Amedeo VI of Savoy, on a crusade organized by Pope Urbano V, displayed on his flagship, next to the banner of Savoy, a large blue flag in tribute to the Madonna:
"... di devozione di zendalo azzurro con l'immagine di Nostra Signora in campo seminato di stelle (oro). E quel colore di cielo consacrato a Maria è, per quanto a me pare, l’origine del nostro color nazionale."[from Luigi Cibrario "Origini e progressi della Monarchia di Savoia" (Torino, 1869) and Carlo Alberto Gerbaix De Sonnaz "Bandiere stendardi e vessilli di Casa Savoia, dai Conti di Moriana ai Re d'Italia (1200-1861)" (Torino, 1911)]
From that time forward military officers wore a blue knotted sash or scarf. In 1572 such use was made mandatory for all officers by Duke Emanuele Filiberto of Savoy. Through several changes over the centuries it became the chief insignia of rank. The blue sash is still worn by officers of the Italian armed forces during ceremonies. The Italian presidential banner is bordered in azzurro too (in heraldry the color signifies law and command.
Also in tribute to religious figures, the ribbon of the Supreme Order of the Santissima Annunziata, the highest Italian chivalric ensign (and among the oldest in Europe) was light blue, and blue ribbons are used in the military for certain medals (such as the Medaglia d'Oro al Valor Militare and Croce di Guerra al Valor Militare).Forza Azzurri!
During the twentieth century azzurro was adopted as the official color of athletic jerseys for national Italian teams. The Italian national soccer team, as a tribute to the Royal House of Italy, wore blue shirts for the first time in January 1911, and the maglietta azzurra quickly become the symbol of the sport.
The color took several years to establish itself as part of the uniform for other national teams. In fact, during the 1912 Olympic Games the most popular color remained white and persisted, even though the Comitato Olimpico Nazionale Italiano, established in 1914, recommended the new jersey. Only during the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles did all Italian athletes wear blue.
The national football team also briefly wore black shirts, as demanded by Benito Mussolini. This shirt was used in a friendly game with Yugoslavia in May 1938 and during the first two World Cup matches that year, against Norway and France. After the war, even though the monarchy was ousted in Italy and the Italian Republic was born, blue uniforms were kept for national sports (but the royal crest of Savoia was eliminated).
It's worth noting that the color also frequently serves as the nickname for national Italian sports teams. Gli Azzurri refers to the Italian national soccer, rugby, and ice hockey teams, and the Italian ski team as a whole is referred to as the Valanga Azzurra (Blue Avalance). The female form, Le Azzurre, is likewise used to refer to Italian women's national teams.
The only sport that doesn't use a blue shirt for its national team (with some exceptions), is cycling. Ironically, there is an Azzurri d'Italia award in the Giro d'Italia in which points are awarded for the top three stage finishers. It is similar to the standard points classification for which the leader and final winner are awarded the red jersey but no jersey is awarded for this classification, only a cash prize to the overall winner.