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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 July 2006, 06:05 GMT 07:05 UK
Italy win gives break from scandal
By David Willey
BBC News, Rome

While Italians gave a hero's welcome to their victorious World Cup team, fresh from their triumph in Berlin, the seamy side of Italian football was being relegated to small print on the inside pages of Italian newspapers.

Italian fans celebrate in Turin
It is hoped the World Cup win will give Italian football a boost

Yet a sports tribunal set up by the Italian football federation, Federcalcio, to investigate what has been described here as the biggest match-fixing scandal ever to besmirch Italian soccer, is due to deliver later this week in what could be a devastating verdict for four top Italian first division clubs: Juventus, AC Milan, Fiorentina and Lazio.

The tribunal is sitting in a sparsely furnished temporary courtroom at Rome's Olympic football stadium.

Five of the six judges are retired high court judges, the sixth is an official of the referees' association.

The verdict will then be immediately re-examined by an appeals tribunal.

Relegation possible

Juventus' fans march in Turin in support of their club
Match-fixing allegations have shocked the football-loving nation

Serious allegations of extensive match-fixing and fraud first surfaced last May with the publication of alleged telephone conversations between officials discussing which referees should take charge of matches played by the current first division champions, Turin's Juventus.

The scandal mushroomed into a major enquiry into the ethical conduct of the entire football industry.

Now the four clubs, including Juventus, stand to be relegated to minor divisions of the Italian league and/or be stripped of their former championship titles.

Six members of Italy's cup winning team have played or are currently playing for Juventus.

Another former Juventus player, full-back Gianluca Pessotto, recently appointed team manager, is still critically ill in hospital after suffering severe depression and falling from a window at the club's headquarters.

Now we have to separate the negative side from the positive
Guido Rossi, Italian football federation

If sanctions are imposed, the potential losses to clubs and players in TV rights could be enormous.

The clubs could also be thrown out of European competitions.

Twenty-six senior football officials are also under investigation.

'Nightmare'

Lawyers representing the accused clubs and officials have already asked for extra time to study evidence.

Security guard stands outside the HQ of Italy's football federation in Rome
The Federation hopes the World Cup win will prove a turning point

Earlier in the month, about 20,000 Juventus fans staged a march through the streets of Turin in support of their city's club, long associated with the Agnelli family, founders and major shareholders in the Fiat motor company.

The newly-appointed club chairman said Juventus may have committed sins but they were minor ones, not major ones.

From Berlin, the newly-appointed special commissioner of Italy's football federation Guido Rossi has made comforting noises saying that Italy's World Cup victory lays the basis for a new renaissance of Italian football.

"Now we have to separate the negative side from the positive," he added.

Also present in Berlin was Stefano Palazzi, the prosecutor who last week asked the tribunal to impose severe sanctions against clubs and officials accused in the match fixing scandal.

The Italian Federation has a 27 July deadline to communicate to Uefa the names of seven Italian clubs which will take part in the coming season's European championships.

Relegation would mean that some at least of Italy's new football heroes might be ineligible to take part.

That is a nightmare which Italian fans gathering in Rome for the homecoming celebrations of their adored Azzurri (the blues) do not even want to contemplate.


SEE ALSO
Italian football's tangled web
18 May 06 |  Europe

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