Over the last few weeks, the ongoing issue in the Italian game surrounding stadium ownership and control has again resurfaced, although some clubs are now gaining ground.
The fight between Claudio Lotito and CONI (the Italian Olympic Committee) over the debt owed by Lazio for the lease of the Stadio Olimpico and the decision of Chievo to ask the local council of Padova for the permission to play their home games at Stadio Euganeo have highlighted the need for a resolution to this longstanding subject.
Both Chievo and Lazio assume that they are paying too much to the owners of their stadiums and many share the idea that local councils (or, in the case of Stadio Olimpico, CONI) are exploiting football clubs – fearing the building of new, club-owned grounds – as these bodies could lose a revenue stream and get left with a useless building on their hands. Also, the fact that Catania has been heavily criticised for having denied use of the city stadium to Italian rock star Vasco Rossi – deciding that playing a Serie A fixture at home was more important than a rock concert – suggests that the time has finally come for clubs to have their own football dedicated venues.
At the moment it seems that everybody is waiting for a new law – the famous Legge Crimi – to be passed by the parliament. This should help the process of privatisation of the stadiums and make it easier to build new ones, thus finally allowing clubs to increase their match day revenues with the aim of competing with their European counterparts. Currently, a club would have to wait eight years before beginning the construction of a new ground, while under the new legislation this amount of time would be reduced to one year. Moreover, the clubs could get favourable credit arrangements and would be allowed to build commercial centres, cinemas and houses in order to recoup part of the outlay.
Regardless of whether or not the law will be approved, some clubs have already started planning new stadia. Having reached an agreement with the local council of Torino in 2003, Juventus will play its home matches at the new Juventus Arena starting from next season. In some cases, thanks to the co-operation between some local governments and football clubs and with the financial help of Istituto di Credito Sportivo, new stadia may be built. Palermo president Maurizio Zamparini has announced that their new stadium will be owned by the Rosanero thanks to a law passed by the regional government of Sicily, while Udinese’s Stadio Friuli, despite undergoing serious renovation with the elimination of the athletics track, will still be property of the local council.
With the construction of a number of brand new grounds and the removal of all the cages and the fencing that separate the fans from the pitch, announced by Interior Minister Roberto Maroni as a result of the decline of fan-related incidents at football matches, in order to create “open structures, without barriers and distinctions”, it is likely that in the future Italian stadiums will start to come closer to the example set by those in Britain.