Rome: A World Cup victory few expected. A corruption scandal that disgraced some of Italy's most famous clubs. And now, the death of a police officer during riots by Sicilian soccer fans. The past year has been a tumultuous ride for Italian soccer, gripping a nation where team allegiances are a reflection of ancient loyalties that pit town against town. Passions have defied long attempts by the government and police to bring violence under control. Filippo Raciti's death during clashes at the Catania-Palermo game Friday evening, which prompted the cancellation of the rest of the weekend's matches, has shocked a nation where soccer is part of the fabric of life, to many nothing short of religion. Italy has three national sports dailies that are almost entirely devoted to soccer. Most other sports typically receive little, if any, TV coverage. Day in and day out, countless radio and TV shows, from national broadcasters to small local stations, discuss in great detail team news, refereeing decisions and soccer policy. England was long notorious as the home of the soccer hooligan, but CCTV cameras, tougher policing and higher ticket prices have tamed stadium violence. Now Italy, France and the Netherlands are becoming known as the European countries where the worst soccer violence takes place. Recovering from scandal Thanks to Italy's World Cup final victory over France last July, Italian soccer managed to recover from a match-fixing scandal that had greatly undermined its credibility. But Friday's violence promises to be a harder crisis to overcome. On Tuesday, Interior Minister Giuliano Amato said that 34 people have been arrested following the rioting, including 11 minors. They were not believed to be responsible for the death of the 38-year-old police officer but were suspected of violence against public officials and vandalism. Premier Romano Prodi has vowed radical changes. A soccer official even suggested bringing the league to a halt for a whole year. But some say it's the very mentality of Italians that needs change. Being a soccer fan in Italy is for many a way of expressing allegiance to one's hometown. And in a land that was once a collection of city-states engaged in constant fighting, emotions can run high. Often, the closer the cities, the more bitter the rivalries. Historically, Naples and Avellino in the south or Siena and Florence in the north are bitter rivals and that sometimes spills into the soccer stands. Animosities also can play along Italy's traditional divide between its wealthy north and its underdeveloped south. Cross-town rivalries can be the most violent ones. In 1979, Lazio fan Vincenzo Paparelli died when a rocket fired by AS Roma supporters during a derby hit him in the eye. In 1995, 25-year-old Genoa fan Vincenzo Spagnolo was stabbed to death before a match between his team and AC Milan.
Topics : Football