Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Serie A on Borrowed Time?

A not-so-funny thing happened on the way to the Inter-Lazio game last weekend in Italy. A Lazio supporter was murdered--accidentally--by a policeman touching off a terrible night of violence in Italy and plummeting Calcio back into the abyss.

The wounds of the bribery scandal that sent Juventus, Lazio and Fiorentina to Serie B and stripped other top clubs of points in the standings still sting. And now this terrible tragedy compounds things to new depths.

But this tragedy has nothing to do with the inner workings of football. There was no match-rigging conspiracy at play here. There was no network of club officials pulling strings to ensure favorable refereeing at their matches. This was the case of an officer pulling the trigger on an innocent man who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Gabriele Sandri's biggest crime was stopping for gas nearby where Lazio and Juventus supporters were slugging away at each other in a fit of testosterone rage over club and country.

So who's to blame. Well, Michel Platini is pointing a finger at the Italian government. He says they need to step in much the way the English did to clean up hooliganism at clubs. Sandri's death was the second football-related death in Italy this year. Enough.

"(Platini's) view is that soccer is not to blame, nor the majority of real Italian soccer fans, but it is a minority of extremists who take over fans clubs and are not interested in football who are to blame. The Italian authorities need to clean up these supporters clubs, otherwise the small minority is going to continue to ruin the game for the majority of Italian supporters who are terrific fans of the game," says William Gaillard, special adviser to Platini.

Right now, local authorities essentially act as security at stadia in Italy and Platini would like to see it centralized. Football is critical to the economy of Italy and it needs to be policed with the highest of scrutiny. Dedicated training of authorities is required, much the way the English handle it.

It's time for Italy to rein in this "small minority" of fans. If the Italian government cannot handle it, get help from the EU. Football is a pastime, but it's a financial, social and cultural center as well. Grown men do no weep when the dollar falls against the Euro, but they do if Roma falls to Lazio. That emotional attachment is why fans adore football. To have it ruined by selfish pigs with an evil agenda is evil itself.

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