The Italian National team sent a strong message this week in the fight against organised crime, by training on a pitch that had been confiscated from the mafia crime syndicate, the Ndrangheta.
The pitch, which is situated in the small southern town of Rizziconi in Reggio Calabria, was once under control of the extremely fierce mafia gang called the Ndrangheta. This gang is one of the worlds largest cocaine trafficking syndicates and is widely believed to be more powerful that the more well known Sicilian mafia. Along with extortion and money laundering, this group operated independently and was responsible for several bloody gang wars that lasted until the 1990’s.
Since then they have moved their operation to the lucrative drug trafficking business and import mainly from Colombia. The violence however, has not calmed down with this shift in profiteering; in 2005, Francesco Fortugno, deputy president of the regional parliament, was murdered in public by the group. The fact that these killings are still happening and the fact that it is believed that their annual revenue is about € 35-40 billion is why the Italian government is set on trying to take harsh measures in the Calabria area.
The Italian National team got involved with this project when Libera (who organise groups against organised crimes) told of a story in which a young boy Domenico Gabriele was killed by a stray bullet whilst playing football. Sick and tired of living in fear they have decided to act and this is something that has been taken on by the Azzurri. “I invite the football federation to join our network of 1,600 associations without political colours,” said Libera president Luigi Ciotti. These sentiments were backed up by National team boss Cesare Prandelli: “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up. Ciotti is right. These people won’t be left alone. There is a tomorrow. We will give future purpose to this day.”
Football itself is a powerful entity and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon was adamant that the locals should come and support and not hide from the past: “What we took to the pitch were the values of freedom, I think the key to fighting crime in these situations is to know the history of each town or city, in order to manage to stir the conscience.”
The pitch in Rizziconi that the national team trained on was exceptionally well equipped and the Azzurri were also greeted by 1,000 fans who had come out in support of the team and their cause.
Italy were preparing for their game on Tuesday night against Uruguay. This was a match that they went on to lose 1-0 thanks to a Sebastian Fernandez goal, a defeat that ends a mixed week for the Italians as they had previously beaten Poland 2-0 in Wroclaw with goals from Mario Balotelli and Giampaolo Pazzini, however, the good work they have done in Calabria will be remembered a lot longer than the results.