The decision to suspend all football matches in Italy after a policeman died during rioting by rival sets of supporters in Sicily could well be a watershed for the game in that country.
Escalating violence between fans linked to particular clubs has been a growing source of concern and now senior politicians are being urged to intervene and seek a solution to the problem (http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/6326513.stm).
Luca Pancalli, head of the Italian football federation (FIGC) said: “What we’re witnessing has nothing to do with soccer, so Italian soccer is stopping.”
He is absolutely right, of course, in stating that this has little to do with football. Despite the justifications the “fans” use to wage war on rival supporters – pride in your chosen club being one of the most laughable – the often fierce, intense and volatile rivalry that exists between teams all over the world has very little to do with the game of football itself.
Such intense rivalry is evident in other sports, albeit without the associated violence. The Six Nations starts this weekend where the leading Rugby Union nations in Europe will do battle.
The first three matches – Italy v France; England v Scotland; Wales v Ireland – throw up some real rivalries, not least the clash at Twickenham between the English and the Scots. But more than 70,000 will attend and in comparison with a football match between the two countries it will pass off peacefully whatever the result.
Why is that?
I don’t subscribe to one of the usual explanations regarding the social make-up of the crowds that watch football and rugby matches. So perhaps it is time the football “industry” took a long hard look at itself.
Luca Pancalli is right when he states the rioting in Sicily “is not football”. But, equally, it does not mean those people leading the game in Italy and elsewhere in the world where violence and football go hand-in-hand do not have a responsibility to tackle the problem themselves.
Police and politicians can advise, but the football authorities should be taking the lead.
The various governing bodies are happy enough to accept the massive financial rewards of the modern game, so they can’t hide from the equally significant issue of violence associated with the “beautiful game”.