Italy investigator: Title should not ease scandal penalty

July 12, 2006

ROME -- Italy's World Cup victory makes it even more urgent to clean up soccer at home and punish the teams involved in a match-fixing scandal, the Italian soccer federation chief said Wednesday, ruling out any amnesty.

Guido Rossi, a senator called in to lead the federation in the wake of the scandal, also ruled out any reduced penalties for top Serie A clubs facing possible relegation to lower divisions.

"An amnesty would be absolutely the wrong way to go about re-establishing a clean sport, which the national team has proved can exist," Rossi told a parliamentary committee investigating the biggest soccer scandal in Italian history.

Prosecutors in the sports trial are seeking demotion for Juventus to Serie C -- the third division -- or lower; and for Milan, Fiorentina and Lazio to be relegated to Serie B.

Juventus could also be stripped of the league titles it won the past two seasons. Verdicts are expected this week. It would be in Rossi's power, with the court's favorable opinion, to grant leniency.

Thirteen of the 23 players on Italy's World Cup-winning squad play for the four clubs involved.

Last week, before Italy beat France in a penalty shootout for its fourth World Cup title, Justice Minister Clemente Mastella criticized the court proceedings and suggested the possibility of an amnesty.

"Amnesty in case of a victory at the World Cup? The government cannot interfere, but I think the fans are asking for it," Mastella said.

While ruling out leniency, Rossi told lawmakers that he was working on a wide-ranging reform of the rules governing Italian soccer.

Rossi said talks with European governing body UEFA and Italy's referees' association were focusing on the creation of an independent watchdog system. That follows allegations that club officials conspired to have friendly referees appointed to their team's matches.

Other possible moves include introducing a salary cap for players, reforming the way lucrative TV rights are sold and changing the election system for the top ranks of the federation to increase their independence.

"The watched cannot elect the watchers," Rossi said.

Rossi also said that if the proceedings don't wrap up before the end of July, the federation will still meet the deadline for entering European club competitions.

If appeals will not have been heard by then, the first degree verdict would be considered in effect, determining which teams take part in the Champions League and UEFA Cup, he said.


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press