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By ESPN Staff
Feb 7, 2007

Top Italian teams may have to play at empty stadiums

ROME -- The Italian Cabinet approved measures Wednesday that could force many of the teams in the nation's top soccer leagues to play in empty stadiums.

Play in Serie A, Italy's top league, will resume this weekend, according to Barbara Moschini, spokeswoman for the Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio, the country's soccer governing body. Inspections Thursday will determine which stadiums will be allowed to have spectators.

The decree approved by the Cabinet also bans clubs from selling blocks of tickets to visiting fans and allows authorities to bar suspected hooligans from entering stadiums, even if they haven't been convicted of crimes.

"The measures are severe and without precedent," Deputy Interior Minister Marco Minniti said. "Our objective isn't to play the games behind closed doors. Our objective is to play the games in safe stadiums with open doors."

The Italian news agency ANSA said that only six soccer stadiums in Italy meet the required security standards, including Rome's Stadio Olimpico. The San Siro stadium -- home to AC Milan and Inter Milan -- is among the stadiums completing work to meet the requirements, ANSA reported.

The Italian soccer league said its officials will meet Thursday in Rome with the presidents of all 42 teams in Serie A and Serie B -- Italy's top two leagues. The stadiums subject to the spectator ban will be announced then.

Other measures ban clubs from having economic ties with fan groups and stiffen prison terms for committing violence against police from five to 15 years.

The measures must be approved by parliament within 60 days to remain in effect. The Cabinet also approved a proposal for more long-term changes, putting club stewards in charge of guaranteeing security inside stadiums and involving the clubs in the ownership of the sports arenas, now owned by local authorities.

Premier Romano Prodi's Cabinet was reacting to the fatal attack on 38-year-old policeman Filippo Raciti last week.

At least 38 people have been arrested, including 15 minors, and at least two more taken in for questioning in Friday's violence at Catania's stadium, where the local team was playing cross-island rival Palermo. The violence led to the postponement of Italian league games Saturday and Sunday.

Investigators in Catania were examining a film of the fatal attack in hopes of identifying suspects, police said.

Authorities did not say what the stadium's closed-circuit cameras contained. Italian news reports said the video showed the fighting outside that began after the Catania-Palermo match had started Friday night, including youths with partially covered faces approaching Raciti and one of them hitting him in the abdomen.

The Apcom news agency reported that the tape showed Raciti being hit with a sink that had probably been ripped out of one of the stadium's bathrooms.

Raciti continued to work, but about 45 minutes later he climbed out of his car when someone tossed a fire cracker inside, and he collapsed to the ground as a small, crude bomb went off next to him, newspapers reported.

Police initially believed Raciti was killed by the bomb, but officials later said he died from severe injuries to his liver, probably after being hit by a blunt object.