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Saturday, April 7, 2007

PREMIER REPORT

Latest violence likely to cost Italy 2012 European C'ships


LONDON -- Quentin Tarantino would no doubt have been delighted by the horrendous scenes of gratuitous violence in Rome's Olympic Stadium on Wednesday night had they been for his latest movie.

Christopher Davies

Unfortunate the display of what at times appeared to be pre-meditated brutality was the real thing as Manchester United fans were beaten and batoned by Italian riot police.

It was gut-wrenching viewing as police went over to United supporters laying on the ground and beat the unarmed fans with batons.

And what will happen to these legalized thugs?

Nothing, absolutely nothing.

Those representing the law are sadly also above it.

Yes, there will be a UEFA investigation, but European football's governing body admitted it has no control over police forces.

Italian law says police are responsible for public order inside stadiums.

"Stadia in Italy are municipal stadiums, they are not the property of the club," said UEFA spokesman William Gaillard.

"We are definitely in favor of soft policing, which is clearly the use of stewards who we know can handle a difficult situation probably better than riot police.

"We cannot tell the Italians and other countries where police are in charge of public order in stadia not to enter grounds. We are just a football authority not a law and order authority."

For the second successive Champions League tie, United supporters felt the too strong arm of the law after the French authorities had attacked visiting fans at the tie against Lille last month.

In Rome, the police allowed the home fans to almost do what they liked but put the baton in on United supporters indiscriminately according to one eye witness.

One United supporter told me: "It happens to just about every team or country that comes to Italy. But nothing will happen, it never does.

"Before the game we were attacked by Roma fans with machetes and knives. And what happened? The police tear-gassed us.

"One guy was talking to a steward and two police ran at him and one cracked him across the face with a baton. It was horrific.

"The police were just wading in . . . it was an orgy of violence. But they get away with it because they are the police.

"England and Germany are the only two countries who know how to stage a game like this properly.

"Roma fans will come to Manchester and they will walk into Old Trafford, no trouble, no baton charging, no machetes, no knives, no trouble. We come here and have to contend with this.

"Someone will die, I promise. Then people will say 'what's going on?' We've been telling UEFA what's going on but they don't care."

Roma could be charged if it is judged to have failed in its security arrangements, while United could be in trouble if its fans are found to have a played a significant role in provoking the police's reaction.

Thirteen United fans required hospital treatment. One female supporter was seen being pushed in the face by a policeman while another was repeatedly struck with a baton as he lay on the ground.

The biggest problem inside the ground, apart from the bullies in uniform, was that it was not all-seat.

In its wisdom UEFA has already chosen Rome as the host for the 2008 Champions League final and is unlikely to reverse that decision.

But it will insist the Olympic Stadium fully conforms to its standards with individual seats rather than numbers painted on benches, which is effectively little more than glorified terracing.

It was the ability to run along large areas of the "seating" that saw Roma fans start the trouble on Wednesday by hurling missiles (there were no security searches as spectators entered the stadium) at United fans -- had the stadium been all-seat in the accepted sense they would not have had such freedom.

Incredibly there was no visible police presence among the home fans despite their reputation. They were all in the visiting supporters' area and waded in with their batons, hitting the victims rather than the perpetrators.

While the Champions League final may be going to Italy the latest outbreak of violence could cost the world champions the chance of staging the 2012 European Championship.

* * * * *

UEFA's 15-man executive committee will announce the hosts for Euro 2012 in Cardiff on April 18, after the three candidates have made their final presentations in the Welsh capital.

The other bids are from Poland/Ukraine and Croatia/Hungary, with the joint bid from Croatia and Hungary gaining favor within the corridors of power of European football's governing body.

Luca Pancalli, the commissioner of the Italian Football Federation, said: "If we lose our Euro 2012 bid we would deserve to lose it."

Representatives of the potential hosts handed over their final bid documents to UEFA in February.

Mikael Salzer, head of national team competitions at UEFA, said: "All of the dossiers have been well presented and professional, which is in line for a competition with such a high standing."

New UEFA president Michel Platini recently spoke out against violence at football matches.

Though the Frenchman had a successful career with Juventus, the executive committee could conclude that Platini would prefer Euro 2012 not to be awarded to a country totally beset by hooligan troubles as Italy is at present.

Italy would look as if UEFA is condoning the excesses of the Ultras which show little sign of subsiding.

Italy's 2006 World Cup triumph came in the wake of a massive corruption scandal which saw Juventus relegated to Serie B, and AC Milan, among others, docked points.

Earlier this season Filippo Raciti, a policeman, was killed during riots at the match between Catania and Palermo which forced domestic games to be suspended.

An investigation by the Italian Football Federation showed only four stadiums in Serie A -- Palermo's Barbera stadium, Turin's Olympic Stadium, and Siena's Artemio Franchi Stadium and, remarkably, Rome's Olympic Stadium -- properly fulfilled the safety criteria for national and international matches.

Luigi Ludovici, project manager for Italy's Euro 2012 bid, said: "Lots of fans followed Italy to the last European Championship and the World Cup in Germany. They took a lot of passion with them, but they were never a problem. This is a problem that comes up more at club level than at international level."

Yet supporters of Inter Milan and Verona clashed during Italy's 2006 World Cup qualifier against Scotland at San Siro with David Taylor, chief executive of the Scottish Football Association and soon to become general secretary of UEFA, describing the scenes as "the worst I have seen in 20 years."

Lazio has been punished on a number of occasions for the racist behavior of its fans.

The brawl involving Valencia and Inter Milan players after the Champions League tie last month was the latest controversy for the Italian club which had to play four European ties behind closed doors at San Siro after AC Milan goalkeeper Dida was hit by a flare during the abandoned Champions League tie in April 2005, its second such UEFA punishment since 2000.

Roma had to play two ties behind closed doors after referee Anders Frisk was struck on the head by a coin during a Champions League tie against Dynamo Kiev in 2004.

The joint bid by Poland and Ukraine was weakened recently when the Polish sports minister suspended the country's football association as part of an investigation into alleged match-fixing, a move that prompted FIFA to threaten to exclude Poland from international competition.

There have been anti-government street riots in Ukraine recently and the political situation in the country remains unstable.

Croatia and Hungary could win the right to stage Euro 2012 almost by default.

UEFA will make its decision at Cardiff's City town hall at the end of a four-day meeting.

If Italy does not stage the finals it will mean three of the last four European Championships would have been joint-hosted after Euro 2000 (Holland and Belgium) and Euro 2008 (Switzerland and Austria).

Christopher Davies was a longtime soccer correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.


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