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Last Updated: Sunday, 4 February 2007, 18:07 GMT
Seeking a cure for Italy's football disease
By Christian Fraser
BBC News, Rome

There were no games in Italy this weekend, no Milan debut for Ronaldo, not even a Sunday league park match. The stadiums and football pitches were empty.

AC Milan's goalkeeper Dida is hit by a missile in a Milan derby in 2005
AC Milan's goalkeeper Dida is hit by a missile at a Milan derby

The Italian federation took a decision on Friday night to suspend the league indefinitely after riots at the Sicilian derby between Palermo and Catania.

Fans fought running battles with police and a 38-year-old officer was killed. A total of 29 people were arrested, several of them under the age of 18.

To those who follow Italian football, the violence, while appalling, was not surprising. It is now endemic at Italian stadiums.

English lesson

There is a growing core of fans for whom the game is incidental - they come to the stadium to fight and many of them come armed.

I think football should stop for a year in order to reflect on the evils that exist
Sergio Campana,
players' association president

Investigators say they discovered the remains of crude bombs, weapons and drugs after Friday night's Catania game.

People from all sides of the game have expressed their concern.

The Italy coach Roberto Donadoni said he believed the hooliganism should have been properly dealt with years ago.

"We don't practise what we preach," he said. "We've been talking about these incidents for years and they still keep on happening."

So frustrated was Sergio Campana, president of the players' association, that he said the game should stop for a year while it was cleaned up.

Palermo players try to get away from the tear gas during their game with Catania
Palermo players try to get away from tear gas at the Catania game

"If in England they've managed to beat every type of violence, I see no reason why we can't do the same," Mr Campana said.

"In England you see teams that have been relegated applauded by their fans, here our players are hit because they lose one game. I think football should stop for a year in order to reflect on the evils that exist."

Legislation to try to clamp down on violence was introduced over a year ago, including named tickets, more CCTV cameras, extra stewards and body searches at turnstiles.

But flares, bottles and offensive banners are seen regularly at matches in Serie A.

Clear evidence, say critics, that security is still not taken seriously.

Stadium security

Some of the violence at the stadiums is political.

A study by Italian police two years ago found that of Italy's top 128 professional clubs, 42 had significant political orientations among their fans, with 27 veering significantly to the right and 15 to the far left.

Italian PM Romano Prodi
PM Romano Prodi has demanded a "strong and clear signal"

When far right meets far left it is never pleasant.

The head of the Italian Football Federation, Luca Pancalli, will meet the government to discuss the problem on Monday.

Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi has demanded a "strong and clear signal".

"We need drastic measures to prevent the degeneration of this sport," he said.

Sports Minister Giovanna Melandri says the federation should follow the English solution to hooliganism.

That would mean more CCTV in and around stadiums, tougher sentences for fans convicted of violence and financial penalties for clubs that fail to introduce better safety measures.

The Italian Olympic Committee, which oversees all the sporting federations in Italy, said Sunday that stadiums whose security was inadequate should be banned from hosting games next season.

Many clubs have so far refused to spend the money because they rent their grounds from the local council.

The new UEFA president Michel Platini has backed the Italian Football Federation's strong stance.

"I am deeply concerned," he said. "The violence is creeping back into the European game."

"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."

What now for Italian football?

Italy to debate football future
04 Feb 07 |  Football
Italian league halted by violence
02 Feb 07 |  Football


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