Friday, 2 February 2007

Calcio's week of shame

UPDATED: Saturday 10 February, 2213 (UK Time)
The Italian Football Federation (FIGC) suspended all international and domestic football Championships indefinitely following the death of a policeman during serious trouble at the Serie A Sicilian derby match between Catania and Palermo on Friday 2 February 2007.

The FIGC held an emergency meeting in Rome just hours after the violence in Catania, and extraordinary commissioner Luca Pancalli announced an immediate suspension of all football in Italy, including the national team's friendly international with Romania. "I have demanded a stop to all activity of football in Italy," Pancalli said in a statement. "Enough is enough. I cannot find the words to describe a 38-year-old man who lost his life in such a way. This is not sport."

The derby between the two Southern rivals, eventually won 2-1 by Palermo, had been interrupted after 57 minutes due to crowd trouble when smoke floated on to the pitch. Tear gas, used by police to break up the fighting outside the Stadio Angelo Massimino, drifted onto the field.

The two teams left the pitch for the dressing rooms, with the game suspended for nearly 30 minutes. While play resumed and the final whistle sanctioned Palermo's controversial victory, the problems intensified outside the stadium.

The Palermo fans and the entire squad were kept inside the stadium for several hours after the final whistle, as Catania supporters continued to clash with the police. Although 38-year old Filippo Raciti was initially believed to have died when a home-made bomb was hurled into his vehicle, a post-mortem revealed that a blow from a blunt object caused the injuries which killed him.

Around a hundred people were treated for injuries, while dozens with lesser injuries were taken to local hospitals. The Catania prosecutor's office opened an inquiry into the incident.

The game had already been given an early evening slot because of fears over public safety. It was set to be played on the Sunday afternoon, but Catania’s police commissioner Michele Capomacchia asked for it to be moved because the game clashed with the city’s celebration of patron saint Sant’Agata.

This tragic incident came just a week after Ermanno Licursi, director of Calabrian amateur side Sanmartinese, was killed in a fight with opposition players after the final whistle of a Serie D game against Cancellese. It emerged he had been kicked in the head and died from a brain haemorrhage.

The violence will put a large dent into Italy’s hopes of hosting the 2012 European Championships, where they are short listed along with joint bids from Croatia-Hungary and Poland-Ukraine. When Pancalli was asked about the bid he said, "At this moment I'm not thinking about it, but should we lose our Euro 2012 bid because of this situation, we would deserve to lose it." UEFA will announce the hosts in Wales on April 18.

The President of the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI), Gianni Petrucci, backed the FIGC's decision to suspend all football activity, and Prime Minister Romano Prodi pleaded for a 'strong signal' that football-related violence will not be tolerated. "After the incredibly serious incidents that took place in Catania, our first thoughts go to those who were caught up in it and to their families," said Prodi. "But straight after that I feel it my duty to say we need a strong and clear signal to avoid the degeneration of sport, which unfortunately we are forced to witness with increasing intensity."

The head of the Italian Footballers' Association (AIC), Sergio Campana, called for the Championships to be 'halted for at least a year.'

The Italian press reacted with shock and disgust on Saturday 3 February. Italy's leading sports newspaper, La Gazzetta dello Sport read: "Catania, 21.00, a policeman is killed. Football shuts down", another paper screamed "Enough!".

Many leading figures in the Italian football world believed the country should follow England’s 1980s example in cracking down on hooligans. Palermo President Maurizio Zamparini joined the chorus of figures calling for the implementation of hard English-style rules against hooligans, "While there is impunity for delinquents in this country, we’ll get nowhere. What I expect to see now are the usual empty words, preaching and not much action. A decade ago Margaret Thatcher destroyed the hooligans in England, now we have to see if the Government and authorities have the real desire to do the same."

New UEFA President Michel Platini assured he’ll work alongside the FIGC to solve the growing problems of violence at football matches around Europe. "Violence of any sort is unacceptable and it has absolutely no place in the game of football - we do not condone it, we must not accept it and we must act to eradicate it. That is why today UEFA offers its whole-hearted support for the actions taken by the FIGC's extraordinary commissioner, Luca Pancalli, to indefinitely suspend all international and domestic matches until further notice."

On Sunday 4 February, CONI President Petrucci said football clubs that did not respect increased security measures - including closed-circuit television cameras and turnstiles - would not be allowed to host matches. The sporting authorities are mulling options including banning the public from matches at stadiums which do not meet recently introduced security criteria and forcing matches to take place behind closed doors.

The Lega Calcio (Union of Serie A and Serie B clubs) President Antonio Matarrese caused controversy by saying matches should be allowed to start again. "Deaths unfortunately form part of this huge movement which is football and which the forces of order are not always able to control," Matarrese told the La Repubblica newspaper. "Football should never be stopped. It's the number one rule: football is the industry... do you think there's an industry that would close its factories and not know when they're going to reopen? We are touched, but the show must go on." Mr Matarrese denied making these comments.

On Monday 5 February, thousands of people turned out in Catania's cathedral square to pay their respects for the funeral of Mr Raciti, whose service was broadcast live nationwide. Mourners clapped as the flag-draped coffin was taken into the cathedral. Across the country people observed a minute's silence.

During the ceremony Mr Raciti's 15-year-old daughter Fabiana paid a tearful tribute to her father: "The minute I heard you were dead I lost the will to live. I don't eat, I don't drink, without you there's no reason to go on. You are the very best father," she said.

The Pope, in a message of condolence to the widow of Mr Raciti, expressed his "firm condemnation for any act of violence that stains the world of football".

Crisis talks between the Government and football authorities on how to combat violence in the sport took place all week with Interior Minister Giuliano Amato, Sport Minister Giovanna Melandri, Vice-Minister for Sport Marco Minniti and Police Chief Gianni De Gennaro discussing the situation with FIGC Commissioner Luca Pancalli, Vice-Commissioner Gigi Riva, Lega Calcio President Antonio Matarrese, Vice-President Rosella Sensi and Serie C Lega President Mario Macalli.

On Wednesday 7 February, the Government passed new laws clamping down on football-related violence. "We have approved Draconian measures," commented Minister for Infrastructure Antonio Di Pietro. "If stadiums are not up to code, they will be closed to fans."

The decree is 15 pages long and counts 13 articles ordering that all venues pass the tests set out by the Legge Pisanu, which was introduced in 2005.

As a result of the legislation, matches will have to be played behind closed doors if a stadium does not meet the required security standards.

The laws clamp down on the Ultras, banning the block sale of tickets to organised groups of away supporters. Police can arrest a hooligan caught "in flagrante", that is to say, caught on camera committing an act of violence, up to 48 hours after the event – an extension of the current 36 hours.

Another measure introduced was to make the punishment for resisting arrest a prison sentence of five-15 years. In addition, any game played in February has to take place in the afternoon and not in the evening, while it will be a criminal offence for fans to be in possession of flares, smoke bombs or firecrackers within 24 hours of a match, as well as at the stadium.

Clubs are urged to create a staff of stewards to police the fans, but there will be heavy fines if they employ someone with a criminal record for this role. The media are also asked to set a code of ethics that they will police themselves so as to not inflame public opinion around sporting events.

Following the news of the anti-hooligan laws being passed by the Government, FIGC Commissioner Pancalli confirmed that the Serie A and B fixtures will resume after the one-week suspension. "I think it would be a mistake not to begin again," he said. "It would also be an error not to ride the positive momentum created in these days with a profound understanding of everyone’s responsibilities. Now we can no longer back down to hooligans."

The Serie A and Serie B campaigns will resume from the Round 23 fixtures, so the games suspended last weekend will be played at a later date. However, some clubs are not happy with the ruling that stadiums must host matches behind closed doors until they pass the Legge Pisanu tests, threatening they would strike.

On Thursday 8 February, the Italian government gave six stadiums the green light to reopen to supporters. A special government committee was appointed to inspect stadiums up and down the country to evaluate if the venues complied with the security regulations passed on Wednesday.

Cagliari’s Stadio Sant’Elia and the Stadio Luigi Ferraris in Genoa will join the list of stadiums that are acceptable to host fans immediately. The Stadio Olimpico in Turin, Stadio Artemio Franchi in Siena, Stadio Olimpico in Rome and Stadio Renzo Barbera in Palermo had already met the Legge Pisanu standard.

The list of stadia which fail to make the grade, among them some of the most celebrated in the land, is decidedly long. Stadiums in Ascoli, Bari, Bergamo, Bologna, Brescia, Catania, Cesena, Empoli, Florence, Lecce, Livorno, Mantova, Messina, Milan, Modena, Naples, Parma, Perugia, Pescara, Piacenza, Reggio Calabria, Salerno, Trieste, Udine and Verona will remain shut to fans until the works needed to renovate them are completed.

The Pisanu bill on safety standards does not, however, apply to stadia with capacities of less than 10,000. Good news for seven cities across the country, each of them home to sides in Serie B - Rimini, Frosinone, Treviso, Vicenza, La Spezia, Crotone and Arezzo.

In these seven venues games will go ahead as normal, unless they fail to introduce the special public order measures adopted by the authorities.

This means half of the Round 23 fixtures in Serie A will be played behind closed doors - Atalanta-Lazio, Chievo-Inter, Fiorentina-Udinese, Messina-Catania and Milan-Livorno. There will also be six Serie B matches without any fans in Round 23.

A proposed strike by Serie A and Serie B clubs was ruled out following a Lega Calcio meeting. Officials from the top two tiers of Italian football entered into lengthy talks where they decided to play on time – despite a host of games being closed to fans.

Lega Calcio President Matarrese was relieved that the threat of strike action failed to materialise. "It was a hell of a day," he commented. "But we decided to play to show how serious we are about these matters and I’m proud of what we have achieved. All of the Presidents eventually agreed with the stance we have taken which underlines great responsibility. We have to play on, with sadness in our heart, in the hope that this terrible tragedy will be of some use to the country."

On Friday 9 February, the FIGC announced that the Round 22 Serie A and Serie B matches suspended would be rearranged for Wednesday April 18 and Tuesday April 17 respectively.

On Saturday 10 February, the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza in Milan was given permission to let AC Milan season ticket holders support their side. Work inside the stadium had been carried out through day and night since the stadium failed to pass the inspection.

Serie B matches all kicked-off in the afternoon with six stadiums hosting no fans. The fans of these clubs gathered outside the stadiums to support their team and protest against the laws.

Meanwhile, police investigations continue into the death of Mr Raciti. They have been studying video surveillance tapes at the Stadio Angelo Massimino in Catania to ascertain who killed their colleague. They did confirm that they are questioning a 17-year old boy over the death of the policeman and another 41 people were arrested, many of them charged with resisting police offers and causing injuries.

The youngster, who was not named because he is a minor, denied he had murdered Mr Raciti in a newspaper interview.


1 comment:

  1. Hi Greetings from Ireland.
    Any Ideas where Italy will play Ireland on 1st of April 2009 in WCQ

    reply to