Italian football industry urges ban lift
ROME, Feb 5 (Reuters) - Italy's football industry urged government and sporting authorities meeting on Monday to lift a ban on soccer matches as the nation paused for the funeral of a policeman killed by rioting fans.
A soccer-mad nation which only seven months ago celebrated a World Cup victory was stunned by the outcome of riots at a derby between rival Sicilian teams Catania and Palermo on Friday, in which the policeman died and over 70 people were injured.
Ministers and soccer federation officials have vowed to hammer out emergency measures. Possible steps reportedly being considered include banning spectators from unsafe stadiums and redirecting a percentage of TV profits to improve security.
But the industry was worried that officials could decide to prolong a costly suspension imposed last Friday on a sport that, beyond being a national obsession, rakes in an estimated six billion euros ($7.81 billion) a year.
Italian Football League president Antonio Matarrese has urged the government to consider the financial repercussions of halting football for another week.
Lega Calcio supremo Matarrese believes a further postponement could have serious implications.
'It was necessary to stop,' Matarrese told Italian national newspaper La Repubblica.
'This is one of the most important businesses in Italy and it has to continue to work.
'If someone simply wants to make a point, we may risk breaking the game.
'We are in pain but the show must go on.'
A decision on whether to allow matches to restart will be taken after a cabinet meeting discusses tougher stadium rules later this week.
Sampdoria general administrator Beppe Marotta also agrees football must re-start as soon as possible.
'By halting a day's games you lose 6.3million euros (£4.2m) from box office revenue plus the TV sporting rights,' he said.
'We are aware that the football situation in our country is deteriorating but we have no means to combat this violence.'
The prime minister described the riots in the Sicilian city of Catania as a 'guerrilla war'. Hooded youths wielding metal poles and large firecrackers lashed out at police, as streams of fans fled down city streets to safety.
'It was terrible, terrible, terrible,' Pierluigi Zotta, one Rome soccer fan who had had time to reflect on the violence after a weekend without soccer, told Reuters television.
'Unfortunately most people on Sunday spend their day watching football, I didn't know what to do with myself, but after this terrible thing it was right that soccer was stopped.'
A firecracker which exploded in Raciti's face was initially considered the cause of death, though a prosecutor said an autopsy showed it was due to a blow from a blunt object.
Raciti's coffin, draped in the Italian flag, was driven through the packed streets of Catania on Monday to the cathedral, with thousands of onlookers solemnly applauding in a customary sign of respect.
Throughout the country, Italians paused, with Rome's main airport suspending all check-ins for a minute of silence. The Catholic funeral service, presided over by the city's archbishop, was broadcast live on national television.
Pope Benedict, in a message of condolence sent by the Vatican secretary of state, expressed his 'firm condemnation for any act of violence that stains the world of soccer'.
Prime Minister Romano Prodi told Raciti's widow and two children that his death had 'shocked and moved Italy'.
'To die on a day of celebration, during a sporting event that dozens of criminals transformed into a guerrilla war, is, if possible, even more absurd,' Prodi said.
Raciti was the 13th person to be killed in or around Italy's football stadiums since 1962. The last fatality at a Serie A match happened in 1995 when a Genoa fan was stabbed to death before a game against AC Milan.
UEFA President Michel Platini said his organisation would give full backing to any security measures proposed by Italy's football federation, as it prepares its bid for the 2012 European soccer championships.
The Italian Olympic Committee (CONI), at an emergency meeting on Sunday, urged clubs to break off all relations with violent fans and said stadiums which fail to adopt tough measures could be banned from staging games next season.