Monday, February 5, 2007

Not So Beautiful

It’s freezing in Brooklyn this afternoon, with temperatures below 19° F and I realize how far away from Africa I am.

I imagine sunny fields, moist lakeside shores and arid deserts.
I imagine kids running with homemade balls at their feet, smiling and galloping towards the net. I imagine the temperature being a little bit higher than this, because this weather is ridiculous.

I know this sounds like a stereotypical view of Africa, but please excuse my ignorance. I’ve never been there and only know what I know from documentaries and second-hand experiences related to me. I have this vision of getting there and I’m aware what I see today and what I experience in due time will be vastly different. I am prepared to be amazed.

The Super Bowl was played last night, the most-watched event in American sports.
Over 75,000 fans crammed into Dolphins Stadium in Miami, rooting their teams on to victory in the American football championship game. Not one noted case of fan violence came out of the game.

But in Italy, fan violence has once again claimed the life of a citizen. During the Catania-Palermo Sicilian derby Friday night, a police officer had an explosive device thrown into his vehicle. He died and another officer was seriously injured. Over 150 fans were wounded in the melee. The Italian football federation cancelled this weekend’s games and no one knows when action will resume.

Why this violence? What sparks this outpouring of emotion in physicality against another human? The Super Bowl in Miami last night certainly had emotion and drama. Two teams, locked in battle, dueling in one of the most physical sports known to man. Yet there are no accounts of fan violence in the stadium. Is it that the police presence is so huge at the Super Bowl that no one even thinks of starting something? That definitely has something to do with it.

Is it disenchantment with authority, as Roberto Gotta suggests in this fine article from Is it real tribal hatred? Pure, bloodcurdling loathing of supporters of another club? An Italian version of a gang war? I really can’t answer these questions. I believe it has a lot to do with these things and many more: Dirty, aged stadiums. No logical ticketing policy. Lack of a major police presence. And the attendance of Ultras, radical club supporters, usually political, sometimes violent, who exert a powerful influence on Italian clubs.

At the heart of it, the Italian game is broken. The Italian national team reigns supreme as champion of the beautiful game, but the Italian football league and the people running it can’t get the domestic game straight. Every weekend we’re treated to more reports of fan violence. Stupidity runs amok, with corruption scandals and talk of match-fixing (a la Juventus and Milan) a common theme. Italy is bidding to host Euro 2012, but how can UEFA possibly award the tournament to a nation that can’t contain their fans?

It’s a sad reality in Italian football but not a situation that can’t be corrected (England’s hooliganism problem of the late 1980’s).
Soccer holds a mirror to society, but the image staring back at Italy is very ugly right now. How they move forward from here will tell a lot about the Italian people and Italian society.

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