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No Quick Fix

DW staff (jc)February 6, 2007

The future of Italian soccer is in doubt after the senseless killing of a policeman at a derby between two Sicilian clubs. DW-WORLD.DE asked a German expert what needs to be done to set things right.

View of Angelo Massimino Stadion in Catania, Sicily
Fans are unlikely to return to Catania's soccer stadium any time soonImage: AP

If and when soccer resumes in Italy, a number of games will likely be played without an audience. On Monday the Italian government said that spectators would only be permitted at stadiums that meet safety criteria -- at present only five of the home grounds used in the top division Serie A are reportedly up to scratch.

Play was suspended indefinitely after policeman Filippo Raciti was killed in rioting between so-called soccer fans. But experts question whether excluding potential troublemakers from live matches will solve the problem.

"You can expect that banning hooligans from stadiums will only transfer the problem to the streets," Gunter A. Pilz, a German expert on soccer violence told DW-WORLD.DE. "The policeman in Italy was killed on the street, not on the grounds. Violence in the vicinity of a stadium is much worse than inside because it's more difficult to control. But heightened stadium security is one means of combating violence. If you take Germany as an example, there are only problems with hooligans in places were the stadiums are run-down."

Lessons to be Learned from Other Leagues

Players gagging on tear gas
Tear gas drifted onto the pitch from outside the stadium in CataniaImage: AP

Other European nations, including England and Germany, have made significant progress in fighting soccer-related violence, and Italy will be looking to them to see how it should proceed.

"At present there's a hooligan scene in Italy like the one we had in Germany in the 1980s," Pilz said. "That scene still exists in Italy in even stronger form. That's because neither the clubs nor the police nor local governments enacted safety standards or took preventative measures."

Sports sociologist Gunter Pilz
Sports sociologist Gunter Pilz says both clubs and government authorities did too littleImage: picture-alliance/dpa

"We have a national plan called 'Sport and Security,'" Pilz continued. "It deals with how to maintain order and safety in stadiums, how the police should behave and what clubs can do for fans. On the other hand, there are fan projects. Every city with a Bundesliga team has to have such a project aimed at educating fans. There are still problems with hooligans, but thanks to the plan, we can get them under control relatively quickly when they occur."

In Germany, soccer-related violence hasn't disappeared, but it is mainly confined to the lower divisions, where the money available for security and fan-education projects is limited.

No Immediate Reason for Optimism

Rostock match
In Germany hooliganism mainly happens in the lower divisionsImage: picture-alliance/dpa

But it will be difficult to eradicate what's become an ugly part of Italian culture. Many Italian clubs have been reluctant to confront hardcore supporters, or ultras, who can tend toward violence. Even before Raciti's killing, in reaction to a string of incidents including a fatality at a lower-division match, Italian Soccer Commissioner Luca Pancalli had threatened to put Italian soccer on hold.

The problem has been brewing for some time.

"It was the same earlier," Pilz said. "It's new that someone was killed, but I wouldn't say it's an entirely new quality (of violence). It's quite possible this could have happened earlier. Maybe we were just lucky. Soccer fans aren't the only ones involved in such confrontations. If there's violence, it's an excuse for other violently inclined groups, including criminals, to get in on the fighting."

Soccer-related violence may not even be primarily about soccer.

"Violence in soccer isn't just a sporting problem," Pilz said. "It's a social problem. That's why politicians need to create the proper conditions. On the other hand it's well known that clubs who do nothing or do too little contribute to the escalation. That's why it's up to them too. The disturbing thing in Italy is that everyone looked the other way. Some of the more problematic groups of ultras have the most say in the clubs."

If Italian soccer is to go back to being what it rightfully should be, a sport to be enjoyed, there will have to be a change in Italian culture. Pilz isn't optimistic.

"I don't see much of a perspective at the moment, because the majority of the Italian ultras have developed in a problematic direction," he said. "You can only clean yourself up if measures are taken to ensure that there's a change of heart within the scene, and if the reasonable ones receive some backing up. That's not the case right now."