Time for Italian football to adopt the English cure

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 February, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 February, 2007, 12:00am

The English disease has struck again, although it is no longer fair to pin that label on football violence. After many fans lost their lives in appalling tragedies that can be laid at the door of officials responsible for dangerous stadiums and poor crowd control, the English authorities acted more than 20 years ago.

They banned the sale of tickets at the turnstiles, policed stadium safety and removed fencing that had become a hazard in riots or stampedes. These measures were backed up by police crowd surveillance using closed-circuit television and a national database on violent fans. The improved safety and security has had the desired effect at football grounds, but the English are still living down the shame of the past. It does not help that fan violence still occurs at other venues like pubs, where a recent brawl resulted in three being jailed and banned from attending games for years, and six more receiving suspended sentences.

The latest outbreak of football violence in Italy, which left one policeman dead and more than 150 people injured, has left Italian fans wondering whether their authorities can ever make stadiums safe. Ironically, as we report today, policeman Filippo Raciti died in crowd trouble after a Serie A game that began with a minute's silence for a club official killed last weekend while trying to break up a fight at an amateur league match.

The truth is that football violence, and ugly, organised fan power that often lies behind it, has become such a blot on the 'world game' that the BBC considered it worth a three-part documentary series. What the filmmakers uncovered does not paint a pretty picture.

One segment examined the growing social impact of hooligan groups in Italy and Argentina as they become increasingly politicised and organised.

The filmmakers gained access to the shadowy, and often violent world, of the hooligan groups attached to two of the world's most glamorous clubs - the Irriducibilli of Lazio in Italy and the Barras Bravas of Boca Juniors in Argentina, and revealed the growing influence of these groups on the clubs and star players.

In Argentina, five people have already died this season in football-related shootings, with dozens more becoming casualties. In Italy, racist and far-right groups have a growing influence on the terraces that the hooligans control. The Lazio hooligans have their own merchandise and businesses - organising all the stadium banners and meetings with the players and the club.

Italy, of all nations, could have done without this weekend's tragedy. Its World Cup victory last year was achieved against the background of a match-fixing scandal that rocked the game to the very top.

Raciti's death could be a turning point. Italian Football Federation chief Luca Pancalli is to be praised for his decision to suspend all league matches indefinitely. Hopefully this signals that the governing body is ready to adopt the English cure and tackle fan violence head-on.