Calcio to resume at weekend

February 7, 2007

ROME, Feb 7 (Reuters) - Soccer matches in Italy will resume this weekend, the football federation said on Wednesday, after the government approved a tough set of measures to fight hooliganism despite resistance by clubs.

All play had been suspended last Friday following the killing of a policeman by rioting fans outside a stadium in Sicily.

Under the new measures stadiums which are not in line with security regulations will remain closed to fans.

Other measures include a ban on the block sale of tickets to away fans, a beefing-up of stadium bans for those involved in violence, including under 18s, tougher prison sentences for hooliganism and a ban on financial relationships between clubs and fan associations.

Firecrackers will no longer be allowed inside stadiums and, at least initially, there will be no late-night matches.

'It's clear that we have here very serious measures, I would say without precedents. Maybe this was the only possible answer to such a tragic event,' deputy Interior Minister Marco Minniti said after a special cabinet meeting approved the new rules. The football federation announced shortly afterwards that play would resume this weekend.

'I want to send a message out to all players, fans and coaches to ask for moderation in their behaviour,' said the head of the federation, Luca Pancalli.

He said he would meet UEFA president Michel Platini on Friday to discuss the new regulations.

The plan drew fierce criticism from figures within the world of Italian football, who accused the government of a knee-jerk reaction to the incident.

The president of twice Italian champions Napoli, Aurelio De Laurentiis, said a 'fascist climate' had descended on the country since the policeman's death at a Serie A match between Catania and Palermo last Friday.

'The closed stadiums are a ridiculous idea. They can't impose these regulations on us. We must go on strike,' the Serie B club's president told Italian media.

But the government brushed aside the clubs' reservations.

'Today we have decided that security comes before anything else,' said Sports Minister Giovanna Melandri, adding all stadiums were expected to gradually reopen to the public.

The presidents of clubs in the top two divisions Serie A and Serie B will meet to discuss the anti-hooligan plan at a meeting of the Italian Football League on Thursday.

Only four grounds in Serie A -- Rome's Olympic Stadium, Palermo's Barbera stadium, Turin's Olympic Stadium and the Artemio Franchi stadium in Siena -- meet the regulations, which include closed-circuit TV surveillance, numbered seating and electronic turnstiles.

The rest, including Milan's San Siro stadium -- home to AC Milan and Inter Milan -- require varying degrees of work to bring them up to scratch.

Serie A leaders Inter, for example, will resume their title bid against the deserted backdrop of Chievo Verona's Bentegodi stadium -- one of the venues most in need of modernisation.

Clubs fear having to reimburse season-ticket holders denied access to matches they have paid for, and fans and players said the game needed the atmosphere of a live crowd.

'It would be better to halt play for another week because playing behind closed doors would be the death of football,' Milan captain Paolo Maldini said.

The president of Palermo warned that the government's unyielding stance would fail to curb the violence.

The new policy will hit Italy's lower divisions even harder than Serie A. Eight out of 11 matches in the next round of Serie B matches are expected to be played behind closed doors.