Monday, April 23, 2007

On pasta, scandals, and violence

Today's post marks the beginning of Sports Week here on Extended Drum Solo. I'll be using the next five days to comment on issues and ideas in the sporting world that have caught my attention over the last few months. Enjoy.

Mario Batali, the New York-based chef, repeatedly reminds cooks at his Babbo restaurant: “It’s about the pasta, not the sauce.” It’s fair to say that over the last twelve months, Italian soccer has been way too saucy.

In May 2006, there was the revelation of the calciopoli scandal, which found teams including Juventus, A.C. Milan, Fiorentina, Lazio, and Reggina guilty of match-fixing. Juventus were stripped of their 2005 and 2006 titles, and demoted to Italian soccer’s second division, Serie B, for the 2006/07 season. The remaining teams were given point deductions.

In early February, fan violence at a game between Catania and Palermo led to the death of a police officer and the cancellation of all league games scheduled for the following week.

A brawl erupted between Inter Milan and Valencia players after a March 6 Champions League fixture, leading to suspensions and fines. On April 4, eleven visiting Manchester United supporters were taken to hospital after clashes with police and rival fans before the Champions League match between United and hosts AS Roma.

Even Italy’s win at the 2006 World Cup was tarnished by the actions of neo-Nazis who painted swastikas in Rome’s Jewish neighbourhoods following the victory over France.

No one should have been surprised by these events. Match fixing is nothing new to the Italian game, with a similar scandal having taken place as recently as 2005, when Genoa was dropped to Serie C/1. Fan violence is a constant threat. At a Champions League match between Inter Milan and A.C. Milan in 2005, Inter fans through flares and debris onto the field after a goal was disallowed, and in March of 2006, three visiting Middlesborough fans were stabbed by Italian thugs prior to a UEFA Cup match between the English side and AS Roma. And Swastikas and neo-Nazis show up all too often in Italian stadiums.

Fan violence is not going away. The nature of club ownership in Italy means things will probably get worse. So what is the Italian soccer fan, the fan who is interested in the excitement and drama of the game to do? I can only offer you this piece of advice: Focus on the field. Admire Kaká’s dazzling footwork, Luca Toni’s unstoppable drive, Francesco Totti’s golden boots, Cafu’s agelessness, and yes, even Marco Materazzi’s, um, willingness to win at any cost. Even with all the nonsense off the field, these guys are proof that when it's played well, this game can still be beautiful.

Tomorrow: A close look at Gennaro Gattuso, the rugged midfielder and unheralded star of A.C. Milan, who take on Manchester United in tomorrow’s Champions League semi-final first leg.


Blogger M-C said...

This is exciting.

So is this:

6:59 PM  

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