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   Monday, 4 November, 2002, 15:35 GMT
Politics on the Curva Nord
Lazio fans in the Curva Nord at the Stadio Olimpico
Lazio fans in the Curva Nord at the Stadio Olimpico
Italian club Lazio has a reputation for racism amongst it's fans, but is it justified? World Football's Robert Hillier investigates...

Standing on the Curva Nord for the Rome derby is an intense experience - the banners, the singing, the fireworks.

As the teams are read out the Lazio fans salute their players, but even as their own team is announced one of the substitutes, black Italian Fabio Liverani, is booed. Not by all, but by enough for it to be heard on the pitch.
Lazio fans waving banners
Lazio have been punished for displaying racist banners

There are no police or stewards, the curva is run by the fans. I was let in through Gate 52 of the Stadio Olimpico by a member of the 'irriducibili', the hardcore of Lazio fans, along with at least 200 others. There are no tickets.

I had met Fabrizio Toffo, the head of the irriducibili the day before outside LazioPoint, the group's headquarters. It was shut two weeks ago after three Moroccan immigrants were beaten up outside - an attack blamed on Lazio fans. But Fabrizio told me we were wrong to think that Lazio fans were influenced by politics.

"Politics aren't important, what's important is supporting the team" he said. "Support is economic, vocal and moral".
Cafu of Roma and Brazil
Roma's Cafu - target of abuse

The irriducibili are aware they're under the spotlight. Two years ago a flag was raised on the curva in honour of Arkan, the Serbian general accused of war crimes. Last year banners celebrated Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp, and insulted Roma's black players. Lazio fans already had a bad image, and this was one step too far for the authorities, who shut the ground as punishment.

Now the irriducibili are careful what they say, and who they say it to.

"The club is indifferent, it has no repercussions for the team" said Fabrizio.

"Well, that's not true because there were repercussions. Wherever we went we were labelled racist or other stupid things, and this was reflected in how we were treated by the rest of the soccer community, so we left the politics out of the stadium".

"This is a problem for the whole of Italian football" says Luca Valdiseri, football writer with Corriere Della Sera. He understands why the irriducibili are projecting a new image to the media, but says it isn't a true reflection of what they stand for.

"The right-wing political elements found out in the last couple of years that the stadiums are a good place to recruit new members" he said.
Lazio fans letting off flares
The Rome derby is an intense experience

"They know that politics isn't important to the youth of Italy, but football is.

"Every society has a problem with racism" he said. "And if you can control this in the stadium, maybe it is better for the police. The police know who these people are and where they are, and it's better to have them in the stadium than on the street".

So is this why the clubs seem happy to let the fans decide who enters the stadium, and what they do when they get in? Despite the Italian FA introducing tough new measures to combat racism, they are rarely used. I asked the president of the FA, Franco Carraro, why he thinks Italy has such a problem.

"Italy is very different from France or England, because until 25 years ago we didn't have any foreign people coming here for work" he said.

Certainly there were no racist banners on display at the derby match. Some fans told me that of course they would insult the black players, as they would any Roma player. The monkey chants would be reserved for Cafu, Lima and Zebina though.
Lazio's Fabio Liverani
Liverani - booed by a small section of his own fans

But what can the football authorities do?

"Every social problem is emphasised by football" said Franco Carraro. "This is true all around the world but especially in Italy where football is so popular. Two years ago we took some sever measures in football. Now if the referee sees a racist banner in the stadium, he can stop the match. The sanctions against the club are initially economic sanctions, but can also mean that the club is obliged to play outside their home stadium, as happened with Lazio two years ago".

But some Italians think there mat be another solution - just wait. Guido Pensaro is a sociologist who has studied the behaviour of fans for many years. He's seen the rise of the right in Italian football, but believes there's very little that can be done.
Lazio fans show their support
The Curva Nord is run by the irriducibili

"Right now in this country it is the fashion for most groups of fans to be right-wing" he said. There is, of course, a mixture of right and left among the individuals, but in general the right holds the power.

"There are four or five curva in Italy that are left-wing, the rest are right-wing. This is the opposite of the situation in the 1970s. But, of course, children rebel against their parents in politics as in everything else. There is a pendulum effect and so the majority became right-wing. In time, we may see a natural end to the problem as the next generation grows up".

You can hear all of Robert Hillier's report from Italy on World Football on Saturday 2 November. Use the audio link on the front page.

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