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By ESPN Staff
Feb 7, 2007

Italian government approve anti-hooligan plan

ROME, Feb 7 (Reuters) - Italy's cabinet on Wednesday brushed aside resistance by football clubs to approve a tough set of measures to tackle hooliganism at soccer stadiums.

Under the measures, which follow the death of a policeman during rioting at a match last week, stadiums which are not in line with security regulations will remain closed to fans.

Other measures include a ban on the block sale of tickets to away fans, a beefing-up of stadium bans for those involved in violence at grounds, including under 18s, and a ban on financial or working relationships between clubs and fan associations.

'In the decree (...) it is explicitly said that matches in stadiums which are not in line with regulations will be played behind closed doors,' deputy Interior Minister Marco Minniti told a news conference after the cabinet meeting.

'It is clear that we have here very serious measures, I would say without precedents. Maybe this was the only possible answer to such a tragic event,' he said.

The plan drew fierce criticism from figures within the world of Italian football, who accused the government of a knee-jerk reaction to the incident.

The president of twice Italian champions Napoli, Aurelio De Laurentiis, said a 'fascist climate' had descended on the country since the policeman's death at a Serie A match between Catania and Palermo last Friday.

'The closed stadiums are a ridiculous idea. They can't impose these regulations on us. We must go on strike,' the Serie B club's president told Italian media.

The mayor of Livorno, whose team play in the top-flight Serie A, said clubs will 'almost certainly' go on strike after the government's measures, and warned Italian football risked more damage to its image when European games resume next week.

'Livorno still doesn't know whether next week's UEFA Cup match against Espanyol will be played behind closed doors,' said Alessandro Cosimi.

The presidents of clubs in the top two divisions Serie A and Serie B will meet to discuss the anti-hooligan plan at a meeting of the Italian Football League on Thursday.

Only four grounds in Serie A -- Rome's Olympic Stadium, Palermo's Barbera stadium, Turin's Olympic Stadium and the Artemio Franchi stadium in Siena -- meet the regulations.

The rest, including Milan's San Siro stadium -- home to AC Milan and Inter Milan -- require varying degrees of work to bring them up to scratch.

Serie A leaders Inter, for example, will resume their title bid against the deserted backdrop of Chievo Verona's Bentegodi stadium - one of the venues most in need of modernisation.

Clubs fear the financial consequences of having to reimburse season-ticket holders denied access to matches they have paid for, and fans and players said the game needed the atmosphere of a live crowd.

'It would be better to halt play for another week because playing behind closed doors would be the death of football,' Milan captain Paolo Maldini said of the idea of playing matches without the fans.

The president of Palermo warned that the government's unyielding stance would fail to curb the violence.

'They have drawn up these measures without listening to the clubs that have been fighting violence for years,' Maurizio Zamparini said.

'Even if we close the stadiums, these criminals will do the same outside.'

The policy will hit Italy's lower divisions even harder than Serie A. Eight out of 11 matches in the next round of Serie B matches are expected to be played behind closed doors if the government pushes the measures through.