Italian police officers carry the coffin of Filippo Raciti, the policeman killed in the Cataina-Palermo riots. (Marcello Paternostro/AFP/Getty Images).
Soccer: John F. Molinaro
Apathy is Italy's biggest soccer woe
Last Updated Friday, Feb. 9, 2007
Italy is the official world headquarters of the Catholic Church, but it is another faith that the majority of Italians observe with greater religious fervour: soccer.
But calcio, the Italian word for soccer, is in crisis. The shine and polish of the Azzurri's World Cup victory last summer has long worn off thanks to a series of events that have damaged the already fragile credibility and reputation of the Italian game.
Just days after captain Fabio Cannavaro held the World Cup trophy aloft in Berlin, Juventus, considered the New York Yankees of Italian soccer as 27-time league champions, was stripped of its last two titles and demoted to Serie B (the second division) by a sports tribunal for its involvement in a massive match-fixing scandal that involved several other Serie A clubs.
Two weeks ago, Ermanno Licursi, director of amateur team Sanmartinese, was killed while trying to break up a fight after a Serie D game between his players and their opponents. Licursi died from a brain haemorrhage after being kicked in the face by a fan of rival team Cancellese.
That tragic incident was but a precursor to what happened last Friday when riots broke outside Catania's Angelo Massimino stadium during a Serie A game between Sicilian rivals Catania and Palermo. The riots took a macabre turn when Filippo Raciti, a 38-year-old police officer, died as police tried to contain the violence between the two warring sets of fans.
Disturbingly, the riots appear to have been premeditated and police believe Raciti may have been individually targeted because he acted as a key witness in the trial of a Catania fan accused of violence in a Catania-Palermo game last year.
Raciti's death gripped all of Italy as the country’s top newspapers and leading political and cultural figures – including the Vatican – spoke out.
"Where did they come from these masked boys who ran in the night in Catania, between the teargas and the rubble-ridden streets?" an editorial in sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport poignantly asked."From whose houses did they come, from which schools, which bars? We still don't know, but on their conscience, and ours, is the weight of a stupid atrocity, a policeman torn to pieces."
Sadly, violence inside and outside the stadiums by organized groups of fans, known as ultras, have become commonplace in Italy over the years, but even more disturbing has been the tolerance displayed by Italian soccer officials.
While several clubs maintain social and economic ties to ultra groups, league officials have overlooked teams' failure to comply with the Pisanu decree - laws introduced in 2005 under the previous centre-right Italian government that gave teams more power to curb violence at soccer games.
Only now, in the aftermath of Raciti's death, and only because of additional prodding from the government, will Italian soccer officials be forced to finally tackle its growing hooliganism problem.
Earlier this week, Prime Minister Romano Prodi's centre-left government approved new security measures that all clubs must follow. Prodi also vowed there would be a firm implementation of the Pisanu decree and clubs failing to do so would be forced to play their matches behind closed doors.
The obvious question, of course, is how did Italian soccer get to this point? Why have club and league officials buried their heads in the sand and spinelessly ignored the problems for years? And why did it take the threat of the government's legislative hammer coming down on their heads to force teams and league officials into action?
The answer is simple: apathy.
Cosa possiamo fare? (what can we do?) is the all-too-familiar refrain espoused in a country whose citizenry simply shrugs its shoulders and meagrely accepts the bureaucratic delay, semantic nuance and outright corruption that bedevils day-to-day life in Italy.
Italy is a great paradox. The same country that wilfully offers up la dolce vita (the sweet life) – the warm sun, good food, stunning beaches, beautiful women – to those who wish to indulge themselves, also takes gleeful pleasure in kicking down in the dirt those who try to get ahead by honest means.
Italy is a society weighted down by what Italians call forte raccomandazione, a way of life that sees the average person only obtain and hold onto their job, buy a house, and advance in their career not on merit, but because of an insufferable mixture of equal parts nepotism and favouritism.
It is this systematic string-pulling, where you can only get ahead if you know someone in high places, that defines Italian society. In Italy, it's not what you know but whom you know that counts.
As a result, everyday life is a struggle for the average Italian who has, perhaps understandably, grown apathetic and feels powerless about his plight and surrounding conditions.
Which is too bad because most Italians (the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker) are honest and hard-working folks, but they rarely get ahead. Instead, it's the benefactors of forte raccomandazione and those who have learned how to cheat the system and who don't take responsibility for their actions who, more times than not, are the ones that succeed.
Italy, far beyond soccer, has serious problems.
Italians need to take a long, serious look at the fabric of their country: at the politicians they elect to govern; at the school teachers who instruct the nation's students; and at the parents that are raising the country's children.
Chances are that when Italians do that, they'll figure out "from whose houses" and "which schools" do the ultras come, and they can move on to addressing the crisis that is crippling their beloved calcio.
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