ROME, Feb 8 (Reuters) - Tough new measures to keep hooligans out of Italy's stadiums may be unpopular but they are essential to making soccer safer, the sports minister said on Thursday.
The government approved the new rules, which include closed-door matches for stadiums which do not meet safety standards, after a policeman was killed by rioting fans in Catania last Friday. All play was suspended nationwide.
The violence capped a tumultuous period for Italian football, which is still reeling from a match-fixing scandal that stained its most prestigious clubs but also basking in the glory of its World Cup victory last year.
'My hope is that in a reasonable amount of time we will able to say we are not only world champions but we have deeply, profoundly changed the system of the football scene in this country,' Sports Minister Giovanna Melandri told Reuters.
'Many things have happened already, many internal regulations and rules have changed -- sports justice, the code for judges and agents, plus we are in the midst of changing regulations for TV rights. Now we are facing the challenge of violence,' she said in an interview.
'At the end of this process, we will be able to say we have also won this match and given our country a more credible, transparent football that has driven violence away,' she said.
The measures approved by decree on Wednesday mean that, when matches resume this weekend, most stadiums will be closed to the public - including famous venues like Milan's San Siro.
That has provoked the anger of football clubs, which fear the financial consequences of having to reimburse season ticket holders denied access to matches they have already paid for.
Some clubs have called for a strike in protest at the new rules, while others say the season should be suspended until all stadiums are in line with safety standards.
Melandri said the decision to close stadiums to fans in soccer-mad Italy was 'drastic and unprecedented in this country' but added that most venues should be able to reopen shortly.
'Many stadiums need weeks not even months of works (in order to be in line with the regulations),' she said.
'After the first wave of emotional reactions, we'll see. I think eradicating violence from stadiums is in everybody's interest, even for clubs,' Melandri said.
Other measures include a ban on the block sale of tickets to away fans, although Melandri said this would not apply to international matches; wider stadium bans and tougher prison sentences for those involved in violence; and a ban on firecrackers and flares inside stadiums.
'Matches are resuming on Sunday, but they resume in very different conditions,' said Melandri.
'It's a temporary solution to cope with a situation that is not normal. But it was not normal and we could not accept any longer that the minimum safety standards could not be guaranteed,' she said.