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End game: Violence Threatens Italian Soccer

Nov
13
2007

The recent soccer-related violence hit a little too close to home: the angry chants demanding attention echoed in front of my palazzo here in Milan.
Earlier in the day, a fan sitting in a car at a rest stop on his way to a game was killed by a stray shot a policeman fired to quiet rival soccer factions. It follows all too soon after the death of a police officer in soccer riots in February; the general feeling is that violence has spoiled Italy’s favorite sport.


As soon as I saw the news (which kept all the Sunday treadmillers enrapt at the gym) I expected the proverbial merda to hit the fan in town.
It wasn’t where anyone predicted it — most times trouble is at the stadium, also nearby, or the train station — but infuriated fans faced police in riot gear just around the corner from my house at state broadcaster RAI’s headquarters.
Officials made the bad call of not canceling the day’s games immediately. So when they finally decided to it was a better idea not to hold the Inter-Lazio face-off at Milan’s San Siro stadium, they turned a river of irate young men into the streets.
Coming home from an afternoon flea-market trawl, it didn’t hit me at first that the two events were related. After crossing the tram tracks to see what the fuss was about, it became all too clear the anger was directed not only at police but journalists, too, likening them all to assassins (“giornalisti assassini, polizia assassini“) and a gander at how it looked on appeared on TV later proved turning around and heading quickly for home a good idea.
Rome got the worst of it with around 40 injured police, while about a handful of journalists and cameramen were hurt in Milan.
There have been a number of proposals about how better control calcio die-hards — while a good way to go, following the English route is about as likely as Italians suddenly dressing from Marks & Sparks — and I fear the only one that would have any effect probably won’t happen anytime soon.
As it stands, only a few clubs own stadiums so cities are obliged to provide security. This leaves teams to fill seats with special-priced tickets (and sometimes paid transfers to away games) for “ultras,” the most hard-core supporters.
Even with basics like video-surveillance and turn styles, in essence the stadiums are almost exclusively packed with over-excited 20-year-olds, a recipe for disaster: no wonder authorities are now calling them terrorists.
The long-term solution? Putting security in the hands of the clubs by making them responsible for what happens on stadium turf.
If they were forced to pay for the behavior of supporters, those flare-throwing, ass-kicking fans would shape up subito.
And the rest of us wouldn’t have to wonder whether it’s safe to come home at night, like my elderly neighbor who rang me from a train worried about how much of the “urban warfare” she’d heard about on the news was true.

Share  Posted by Nicole Martinelli at 9:33 AM | Permalink

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