Monday, 12 November 2007

Calcio violence resurfaces

The explosion of violence in Italian football on Sunday shows that for all the new security measures imposed by the authorities after the last football-related death in February, it is a problem that has never gone away.

The Italian police chief, Antonio Manganelli, has promised there will be no cover-up.

And it is vital that the Italian public is given a truthful, accurate version of what happened, beyond the "tragic accident" that police referred to just after the event.

Italian newspapers on Monday all carried graphics showing the motorway, the restaurant, the police car and the vehicle containing Gabriele Sandri.

They gave the impression that rather than shooting in the air he shot straight across two lanes of traffic at head height.

The distraught police officer, quoted by Il Corriere della Sera newspaper, said that after firing in the air he failed to put his gun back in the holster and the second shot went off by accident.

The post mortem started on Monday afternoon should provide further answers, in addition to what police, the fans and the eyewitnesses have already said in their statements.

As news of the death of the fan became public the football authorities were left with a dilemma.

Should they call off all matches as a sign of respect for the dead supporter, as they had done in February when a policeman was killed trying to contain fan violence in Sicily?

The response in the end was confused - two first division matches were officially called off, the others ran as usual. The only evening fixture, Cagliari-Roma in the capital, was cancelled but only at 5pm local time.

"What do you expect? The cops shoot a fan in cold blood, then they cancel the match, no wonder they're on the rampage," said a Roma fan carrying a Roma flag as he returned home on the train.

Like many others he had already been well on his way to Rome's Stadio Olimpico when the decision was taken.

Yet elsewhere fans were demanding that play be stopped.

"For a policeman you stop play, for a fan no!" read one of the slogans on a banner in Milan.

"Death is not equal for all" read another.

In Bergamo, where AC Milan were playing Atalanta, enraged fans were demanding the match be cancelled as a sign of mourning. They tried to smash down the glass barrier separating them from the pitch.

The referee had no alternative but to call off the game.

"Cancel everything or don't cancel anything at all" seemed to be the verdict issued in bars in the Testaccio area of Rome on Monday, a Roma stronghold.

This lack of leadership by the football authorities sent a message of uncertainty and played into the hands of the ultras, the hard core fans for whom football is an excuse for violence.

The comparison between the death of Gabriele Sandri and that of police officer Filippo Raciti outside a stadium in Sicily in February is misleading.

That occurred on a Friday afternoon, meaning the authorities had plenty of time to weigh the implications and reach a decision.

But on Sunday morning Italy's multi-million pound football machine was already in motion and difficult to stop.

Source: BBC

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