Full stadiums, countless pre-game interviews, newspaper articles galore, and thousands of riled up fans. Week 15 was a typical derby weekend.
After Week 14’s Genoa-Sampdoria clash at the Marassi, fans stayed in the ground for quite some time after the match as a 10-man Genoa crushed their rivals 3-0. The fiery clash was played in the dense smoke created from the flares brought into the ground by supporters and play was halted temporarily when a firework was thrown on to the pitch and the authorities were teetering on the brink of losing control. It was a loud and foreshadowing precursor for another fantastic weekend of football in Italy and Inter travelled to Juventus and Roma met Lazio in a double-whammy of derbies in Week 15.
A total of €120 000 in fines was dished out to Juventus, Inter, Lazio, and Roma after this past week’s round of games. On top of the staggering fines, there were six arrests at the Stadio Olimpico. The culprits were put behind bars for a combination of disorderly conduct and homemade explosive devices. While the bulk of the citations were given to the Giallorossi and Aquile, the giants of Turin and Milan had their own fines for both smoke and explosive devices and racial chants against Inter’s young striker Mario Balotelli. So, expenses for all four clubs, all of which spend about 10 times the citation amount on their cheapest players, and six die-hard fans into the arms of the police. Is this what football should really be about? The number of words we have to use each week condemning the behaviour of Calcio’s minority groups of reprobates constantly overshadows the splendour of the game and the genuine passion and love for the sport displayed by the majority of fans each weekend, including the ultras.
Roma and Lazio were given €40 000 fines each for their fans’ behaviour at the Olimpico in the capital (play was suspended for an eight-minute spell in the first half), Inter’s fans cost their club €15 000 for flares and paper bombs whilst the racist chants at Juventus were punished with €25 000 docked from the Old Lady (delaying a stadium of people for eight minutes is 1.6 times worse than racism in 2009). Is this the true way to lay down proper ramifications to a club? Will Claudio Ranieri and Ciro Ferrara feel like they have been dealt a huge blow to their respective league campaigns? Are the fans of the aforementioned teams punished enough for their actions? Sadly, the most important question is: why do we know it will happen again?
Whether the disciplinary commission sits around a table with a plethora of food discussing possible random amounts of money to fine or if the punishments are based on a mathematical equation, they are not really punishments at all. It would be an overestimate to even call them a slap on the wrist. Of course, no-one would dare question the power of the FIGC and Lega Calcio – sending the top-tier Bianconeri to Serie B due to a still controversial match-fixing scandal was no joke to the Calcio community. However, these recent sanctions are more for public display – enough to fine and show the “importance” of the matter – but simply not enough to deter them from reoccurring. Last year, the fans spat out racial chants at the young Balotelli during the Derby d’Italia. A few weeks and an (ill-judged) appeal later, Juventus are playing Atalanta behind closed doors. The match was a blow to revenue and a blow to fans who were denied the right to watch their team. The fact chants were made in Juventus games building up to last weekend’s match with Inter and then during the game itself even after warnings and the threat of punishment merely highlighted the ineptitude that is the FIGC.
The Italian football governing body needs to stop throwing disproportionate fines at these acts. The stoppage of games, the racism, the explosions and violence – these are carried out by small-minded, small groups of hooligans with the support for their club secondary to their personal, misguided criminal actions. Short term, the removal of these people from stadia across the country will have an immediate affect. Strict laws in stadiums all over the world prevent even metal objects (let alone flares and oversized flags on poles) from entering a park whilst racist fans are removed from stadiums and potentially banned from the grounds after their first discrepancy. Handing out small monetary penalties to rich football clubs is almost as short-sighted from the FIGC and Lega Calcio as the despicable behaviour of those they continue to fail to eradicate from the game they are put in place to uphold, govern and protect. This failure to give the issue the correct context and attention it needs will only ensure repeat offenses. Watching a Roma-Lazio game will forever be played out in warzone smoke screens while Juventus will go on disgracing themselves and the grounds they visit.
The only progress currently made is through Coaches themselves releasing quotes that they “trust the fans to do the right thing.” Whilst this acknowledgement of the issue at club level is better than the Lega and FIGC’s half-hearted disciplines, it is still not enough. Clubs need to do more than just issue statements through Presidents and Coaches that their fans need to change – the club’s responsibility – as with the Lega and FIGC – lies with providing everyone who attends a game a safe environment in which to enjoy it, free from the threats of violence, handmade explosives and racial slurs. Serie A’s identity is in the hands of its fans, and currently its name is being dragged through the mud by the minority of racists and thugs acting under the guise of ultras. Eradicating these people from our game takes investment both in terms of time and money. Re-education and awareness spread through campaigns is a stage the Lega Calcio and FIGC are yet to reach – they still seem stuck in the stage before this: acceptance.