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Soccer: Serie A leaders say they have had enough of threats

Aggression by ultra-soccer fans driving clubs to demand action

28 March, 17:42
Soccer: Serie A leaders say they have had enough of threats (ANSA) - Rome, March 28 - Soccer's Serie A league said Friday that it has had enough of threats and intimidation by angry hard-core 'ultra' fans and called on authorities to defend clubs and players against attack.

"That's enough of the intimidation by ultras," said the chairman of the Serie A league Maurizio Beretta. "(Threats) represent a serious violation of the social rights, with real aggression," added a league statement.

These threats are "actions aimed at damaging the clubs, teams and players," and are harming the respect that once existed between clubs and fans, the statement said.

"In this context, the League urges the authorities in charge to defend the autonomy and the prestige of sports clubs and to firmly oppose the organized attacks".

It added that the League also stood ready to take action "on all occasions" against what it sees as "unacceptable" behavior.

The statement came in the wake of several cases in Italy where soccer managers and players were seriously threatened over performances judged insufficient by ultra fans who take the sport to extreme.

Among the more serious cases, Lazio Chairman Claudio Lotito said last month that he receives death threats every day and needs a police escort to protect him from fans of the Rome club.

But the 56-year-old businessman said he would stand firm amid growing protests from supporters for him to sell up.

"These protests are orchestrated by people who have other interests and want to see Lazio sold," Lotito said after a February match that saw the team managed to beat basement side Sassuolo 3-2 despite a surreal atmosphere at Rome's Stadio Olimpico.

During the match virtually everyone in the stadium held up white banners calling on him to "Liberate Lazio".

"Lazio is not for sale," Lotito responded at the time, adding that he received about 50 threatening or insulting phone calls every day.

"I'll leave it to my son".

For months, Italian soccer has been reflecting on how to curtail the excessive power groups of hard-core ultra fans are wielding within the game.

Concerns were heightened last November after supporter intimidation led to a third-tier game being abandoned in farcical-yet-alarming circumstances.

The Campania derby between Salerno hosts Salernitana and Nocerina was abandoned after 21 minutes when the visiting side were reduced to six men - below the minimum needed to continue the game - after a raft of players feigned injuries.

They acted because before the match, around 200 hard-core 'ultra' Nocerina fans went to their team's training camp and reportedly threatened the footballers not to play.

They were angry about being banned from attending the game, which started 40 minutes late, due to concerns about crowd trouble.

While ultras bring much of the colour and noise that make Italian football special, with their coordinated displays of banners, pictures and flags, they are also to blame for many of the episodes of violence, vandalism and racism that dog the game here. The extent of ultra power has been shown in some fans' defiance of new stricter punishments against regional discrimination and racism - another major problem that has marred the image of Italian soccer in recent years.

Indeed, Juventus fans chanted "we'll do what the f**k we want" after being warned to stop offensive anti-Naples abuse during their side's 3-0 win over Napoli in Turin last month.

The chants led to Serie A's sporting judge to order the closure of the Juventus Stadium's south stand for their upcoming games against Udinese and Sassuolo, while the north stand will be shut for the Udinese game.

But the intimidation of players seen in last November's Nocerina incident was unprecedented and caused widespread dismay, with the match being described as the "derby of shame" in the media.

Still, it was by no means the only example of ultra power going too far.

In April 2012 Genoa fans managed to get a match suspended by throwing smoke bombs and intimidated their team to remove their shirts following a poor run of form because the players were supposedly unfit to wear them.

In March 2004, the capital's derby match between AS Roma and Lazio was suspended when fans marched up to footballers to demand they stop playing following bogus rumours that a child had been killed by a police vehicle.