Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Rebuilding football faces uncertain future

Italian football's ambitious plans to reform and rebuild faces an uncertain future after the country lost its bid to host Euro 2012.

Italy's great footballing tradition, world-famous stadiums, and excellent record of organising sporting events like the 1990 FIFA World Cup, made them many people's favourites to win the vote, which was made by UEFA's Executive Committee in Cardiff.

The headline on the front of Wednesday's La Gazzetta dello Sport summed up Italians' confidence of success: "[Michel] Platini will give us Euro 2012," it read. Instead, the UEFA President announced a joint Poland-Ukraine bid as the winner.

Of course, there was always the seamier side of Italian football to consider. Last year's Calciopoli match-fixing scandal and the death of policeman Filippo Raciti in rioting at a game in February had dragged the image of the game through the mire.

But Poland also had a match-fixing scandal and Raciti's death was followed by a new anti-hooligan law and a promise to train stewards to ensure security inside grounds.

Italy's bid was also founded on a plan to renovate several of its most famous grounds, including Milan's San Siro and Rome's Stadio Olympico, plus the construction of three new grounds in Turin, Naples, and Palermo.

The head of the Italian Football Federation (FIGC), Giancarlo Abete, said the decision to give Euro 2012 to Poland and Ukraine was politically motivated.

"All three candidates had what it took to win. Eastern Europe had never hosted the European Championship. That's what it comes down to," he said.

Others, however, said the chaos of the past year probably had something to do with Italy not winning the bid.

"We've created some embarrassing situations for the whole of world football," said former Italy striker, now team manager for the Azzurri, Gigi Riva. "Our win in the World Cup last year helped smooth things over, but it wasn't enough."

The head of Italy's Football League, Antonio Matarrese, believed they could turn defeat to their advantage. "It's a defeat that will do us good, we're coming out of one of the most terrible tragedies in the history of Italian football," he said. "This latest blow will force us into a thorough self-examination."

Italy's Sports Minister Giovanna Melandri insisted UEFA's decision "would not alter our intention to rebuild football by one centimetre".

The government has shown a determination to reform football, from its attempt to introduce collective bidding for TV rights, to the rapid formulation of a new anti-hooligan plan following Raciti's death.

The country's failure to get the European Championship, however, leaves the timetable for change - especially the structural works - uncertain.

A winning bid would have given the Federation, the government and the clubs a set of deadlines for stadium renovations, which UEFA had asked to be completed by June 2010.

The bid also foresaw the ownership of stadiums being transferred from city councils to the clubs, with the money for renovation being raised privately between clubs and investors.

If this transfer does not take place, the works risk getting bogged down in the old arguments between clubs and councils over who should pay for them, which is the main reason Italy has so many outdated stadiums at present.

As for the three new grounds, only the new Stadio Delle' Alpi proposed in Turin, which would be part-funded by Juventus, looks certain to go ahead.

The others in Naples and Palermo could be put on ice, particularly now that there is no longer the prospect of a glamorous Euro 2012 stage to showcase them.

[Euro 2012 goes East]

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