What ails Italian soccer? The answer lies elsewhere

Watching the Napoli Palermo match on FSC with all its breathtaking up and down soccer and a beauty of a goal scored by Giovanni Tedesco, it appeared that the Serie was humming along very nicely. The only jarring note was the commentator’s convoluted British accent. I was looking forward to the Lazio Inter match when the ticker below flashed the information that the match had been called off due to riots following the shooting death of Lazio supporter, Gabriele Sandri, by a policeman. A sense of deja vu settled in.
This is becoming all too commonplace in Italy. With the stench of Calciopoli barely over, Italian soccer has gone through upheavals of violence and each time the authorities have promised that it would never happen again. The violence in Italy appears to be all the more disturbing and out of synch when the rest of Europe is relatively quiet. However the measures have never amounted to enough. The Romano Prodi government and the Italian FA are at loggerheads on how to tackle the problem. The government believes the FA is being too soft suspending Serie B and C matches for just a week.
Last season, Fillipo Raciti, a police officer was killed in riots following a game between Palermo and Catania in Sicily. Under new anti-violence measures this season, some fans have been barred from travelling to games. Fans from Roma and Man Utd turned their CL semi final match into a full fledged brawl with the police beating and bloodying the fans.
In 2005, AC Milan’s Brazilian goalkeeper Dida is hit by a flare thrown from the stands in a Champions League match against cross-town rival Inter Milan. The game was called off, the win awarded to AC Milan.
In 2004, the match between AS Roma and Lazio was suspended three minutes into the second half when a false rumour spread through the stadium that police had killed a boy outside the stadium, sparking riots.
It is even more disquieting because the Serie still attracts the best players and even with the ascendancy of the Premiership, many top flight players prefer the Serie for its superior match play. It is little wonder that AC Milan won the CL final beating the top English clubs. However, the recent spate of violence has some of the Serie stars openly talking of how damaging this is for the future of soccer in Italy.
Milan’s Brazilian midfielder Kaka said in a newspaper interview yesterday that Italian football was “losing credibility” as a result of the weekend rioting, last year’s match-fixing scandal and the death of a policeman in a riot in February. Cannavaro, a Real Madrid defender, added: “We continue to have a less than beautiful image abroad.”
But Clarence Seedorf, MIlan’s midfielder believes that soccer is being scapegoated and that the malaise is deeper than that. “The people are not happy. They are coming to the stadiums to express their feelings and their feelings are not positive. … The whole country lacks leadership.”
Many believe that the problem lies in the club’s patronage of the ultras, a small group of hard core fans, many who get tickets directly from the chairman. Clubs like Lazio and Roma have a long history of racism and violence associated with ultras. Their right wing tendencies were fostered in the time of Benito Mussolini, who saw success in soccer as propaganda to extol the virtues of his dictatorship.
AC Milan prides itself in having a relatively peaceful fan base but in 1995 a Milan supporter knifed Vincenzo Spagnolo, a Genoa supporter. Spagnolo’s death sparked a national crisis as riots broke out. At that time, Milan had some of the most rabid ultras called Tiger Commandos or the Red and Black Brigades, who owed allegiance to Silvio Berlusconi, the recently deposed Prime Minister and Milan’s owner. The violence was believed to have been an outcome of the deep social and political uncertainty facing Italy in those days, mired in recession and high unemployment rates.
“Last Sunday’s spectacle is a snapshot of the general discontent and the distorted conception we have of values and human relationships,” wrote the political commentator, Enzo Biagi, in the Corriere della Sera. And with Spagnolo’s death, Gazzetta dello Sport, Italy’s leading sports daily, urged clubs to cut all ties with the hard-line fan clubs and accused such groups of fostering a climate of hate. “Let’s break all links with them {the ultras} and chase them out of the stadiums,” it wrote. They both could easily have been talking about the latest outbreak of violence following Sandri’s death, twelve years later.
Twelve years later Atalanta’s chairman, Ivan Ruggeri wants to do the same and shut down the Ultra section in his stadium. But time and time again, Ultras have proven that they are part and parcel of Italian soccer and in the transient nature of Italian politics with its power vacuum that exists, proven adept at creating another center of power, which they use to draw attention to themselves.

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One comment on “What ails Italian soccer? The answer lies elsewhere
  1. Hopefully the greater financial pressure from the EPL for sponsorship and TV deals along with the competitions diminishing capacity to attract the top stars will force clubs to finally take this issue seriously.

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