Workers scramble to ready Italy's stadiums

February 9, 2007

MILAN, Feb 9 (Reuters) - Workers scrambled on Friday to bring the San Siro, Italy's most famous soccer venue, in line with security regulations to prevent this weekend's game between AC Milan and Livorno from being played without fans.

The match is one of 11 games in Italy's top two divisions which will be off-limits to spectators, barring last-minute emergency works at the stadiums, after Italy approved tough anti-hooligan measures earlier this week.

The package, which forces venues that are deemed unsafe to close their doors to the public, was rushed through after a policeman was killed by rioting fans in Sicily last Friday. All matches were suspended pending approval of the new rules.

AC Milan said work would continue through the night but at best only season ticket holders would be allowed in the ground, which can hold 87,500 spectators, on Sunday.

'The entire maintenance staff, about 100 people, are inside working on the turnstiles,' a stadium security guard said. Provincial inspectors will give their ruling on Saturday on whether any spectator will be admitted.

Frantic work was also being carried out at stadiums in Florence, Brescia and Cesena to get them ready as soon as possible.

AC Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani, who visited San Siro late on Friday, said he approved the government's measures but would have liked more time to complete the works, which include closed-circuit TV surveillance and numbered seating.

No work appeared to be in progress on the metal fence outside the stadium, meant to help channel people through the gates. The security guard said it was scheduled to be completed in several months and would certainly not be ready for Sunday.

The government has accused clubs of dragging their feet on the restructuring of venues since most of the new safety regulations were originally introduced in 2005.

'I agree with the decree, just not with the sense of urgency,' Galliani told Corriere dello Sport.

'I would have preferred being given a bit more time to get the stadiums up to scratch, 60 days at least. We have to get 160 electronic turnstiles installed and construct 900 metres of fencing,' he said.

'We and Inter have set aside 20 million euros ($26 million). If we had wanted to procrastinate, we would have done.'

San Siro, where Ronaldo is expected to make his return to Serie A in Sunday's match, is the most high-profile venue that does not meet security regulations.

The government said only six Serie A stadiums were in line - Rome, Palermo, Genoa, Siena, Cagliari and Turin.

The head of Italy's football federation Luca Pancalli spoke about the new regulations with UEFA chief Michel Platini on Friday, urging fans to be patient. A UEFA spokesman said the measures were severe but that it was time to put an end to soccer violence.

It is not only domestic matches that are at risk of being played without spectators.

Inter and AC Milan are involved in Champions League fixtures against Valencia and Celtic in the next few weeks, while Italy are due to face Scotland in Bari on March 28 in Euro 2008 Group B qualifying.

Media reports say Inter may choose to play the Champions League game in Genoa to make sure their fans can cheer them on. Galliani said his club would consider going even further.

'Geneva and Newcastle (in England) have both offered to host us,' he said.

Newcastle United, however, played down the likelihood of the match being held at St James' Park, saying they might have to play a UEFA Cup match on the same pitch 24 hours later.

UEFA said the Champions League matches in Milan could go ahead depending on the work being completed at the stadium. Livorno's UEFA Cup match with Espanyol on Feb.14 will be played behind closed doors however, UEFA added.

Work was under way in other stadiums too.

'After what happened our company has received a lot of commissions,' said Domenico Uggeri, the head of a company installing turnstiles. 'At present we are already working on the stadiums of Florence, Brescia and Cesena'.

The league said the matches postponed last weekend will now be played on April 17-18, which means the first leg of the Italian Cup final between AS Roma and Inter Milan has been moved to May 9 with the second leg on May 17.