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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Feb 5, 2007

Italian clubs set to face ban on supporters

Italian clubs will be forced to play behind closed doors until their stadia meet current safety standards, Italy's interior minister Giuliano Amato has announced.

All domestic and international matches in the country have been postponed indefinitely after crowd unrest left a police officer dead and many others hurt following Friday's Sicilian derby between Catania and Palermo.

Amato met with football authorities on Monday following the funeral of 38-year-old Filippo Raciti, and revealed a ban may be imposed on fans being allowed into some grounds in the country.

'We will not allow fans to go into a stadium that does not respect the current safety norms,' said Amato.

'In stadia like that of Catania I will not admit anyone, I am firm on this. That game shouldn't have been played.

'Hence, only those stadia that meet the security norms will reopen to the fans, the other stadia will be used to play in but without fans until they meet guidelines.

'Our current norms are efficient if followed.'

It is understood that only five stadia in Italy are currently acceptable in both Serie A and Serie B - the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, the Artemio Franchi in Siena, the Stadio Olimpico in Turin, Renzo Barbera in Palermo and Bologna's Renato Dall'Ara.

Other grounds, such as the San Siro in Milan, do not fall far short of the guidelines which would allow fans to enter the stadium.

Authorities are set to meet again on Wednesday to hold further talks to discuss stadium security and try to reach a decision on which games will be played - if any - this weekend.

The block sale of tickets to away fans would also be stopped, and police given the power to make arrests without a warrant for football violence offences up to 48 hours after the crime, Amato said.

He added that the existing system of stadium bans for those found guilty of violence at matches would be beefed up to include the under-18s.

The commisioner of the Italian Football Federation, Luca Pancalli, said a decision about when to restart play would be made by Thursday after a meeting of the Italian cabinet to approve the new measures on Wednesday.

'Technically there is time to restart the championship this weekend,' Pancalli told a news conference.

'I'm optimistic that everyone involved in football will have the maturity to accept the new regulations and will collaborate to redraw the future of Italian football. I believe that today we can open a new chapter.'

The industry is 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.

Antonio Matarrese, who represents the financial interests of the teams as president of the football league, said hooliganism was largely a police matter and matches should be resumed.

'We are pained, but the show must go on,' he told La Repubblica newspaper. 'Soccer must never shut down.'

Speaking about the death of 38-year-old policeman Filippo Raciti, Matarrese said: 'Deaths in the soccer system unfortunately are part of this enormous (hooligan) movement that the police have not been yet able to control.'

His comments on the day of Raciti's funeral in Catania drew sharp criticism from the country's Sports Minister Giovanna Melandri, who called them 'beyond comment'.

Prime Minister Romano Prodi also attacked Matarrese's position as 'unacceptable' and 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.

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'.

Raciti's 15-year-old daughter gave a tearful speech, saying: 'I hope your death can transform society'. His wife told the mourners that Raciti's last day started like any other.

'I said goodbye to him like I always did. I expected him to come home, maybe with a few scars but I never thought he would come back to me like this (in a coffin),' Raciti said at Monday's funeral in the cathedral of Catania. 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.

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