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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Feb 5, 2007

Fans could be barred from Italian soccer stadiums

ROME -- Soccer fans won't be allowed into stadiums in Italy for games unless security measures are met, a decision that comes days after rioting at a game in Sicily in which a police officer was killed.

Interior Minister Giuliano Amato also said Monday that clubs will not be able to sell blocks of tickets to visiting fans, allowing for better control of who enters stadiums.

These decisions still need to be approved at a Cabinet meeting Wednesday, Amato said. Italy's soccer federation said an announcement on resuming professional play will be made after that meeting.

Stadiums could "technically" reopen by next weekend if the government approves the security measures, federation commissioner Luca Pancalli said.

Games in the country's top league, scheduled for last Saturday and Sunday, were canceled because of Friday's riot after Palermo beat host Catania 2-1.

According to a report Monday in the Italian sports daily Gazzetta dello Sport, only four stadiums used by clubs in the Serie A satisfy the safety norms -- the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, the Stadio Olimpico in Turin, the Artemio Franchi stadium in Siena, and the Renzo Barbera stadium in Palermo. San Siro, the stadium shared by AC Milan and Inter Milan, does not meet the criteria.

Sports minister Giovanna Melandri also said soccer clubs must cut ties to fan clubs and opponents should be regarded as "adversaries, not enemies."

In the Sicilian city of Catania, thousands of mourners flocked to a cathedral for the funeral of the slain police officer. Pope Benedict XVI expressed his "spiritual closeness" to the family of 38-year-old Filippo Raciti.

"In reiterating his firm condemnation for any act of violence that stains the world of soccer, the Holy Father urges protagonists to promote respect for legality with greater determination," the pope said in a telegram of condolences that was read during the funeral.

In a sign of respect, people applauded as Raciti's coffin, draped in the Italian flag, was carried inside the Duomo Cathedral followed by his youngest son dressed in a police uniform.

"I only hope that your death will push society to make changes," Raciti's teenage daughter, Fabiana, said during a tearful speech.

Amato has said the violence must stop, or the games will. But officials will also have to consider the economic impact of not allowing a quick return to play.

AC Milan and Juventus are the world's third- and fourth-biggest clubs by revenue, according to accounting firm Deloitte. During the 2004-05 season, along with rival giants Inter Milan and AS Roma, the clubs generated more than $1 billion through game-day receipts, broadcast deals, sponsorships and merchandising.

"This is among Italy's most important industries, and it needs to continue," Antonio Matarrese, the president of the Italian soccer league, said in Monday's editions of La Repubblica. "We are saddened, but the show must go on."

"Unfortunately, deaths ... are part of this huge movement, which law enforcement officials still can't control," he said. Matarrese's comments drew immediate criticism, with the Italian Olympic Committee calling them "seriously offensive."