Il Fatto Quotidiano (Simone Meloni) You don’t know whether to laugh or cry. In a few words, that sums up the massive, and at times tragicomic, situation that has surrounded the implementation and maintenance of the safety measures put in at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico. In the last few weeks, things did seem to be moving forward; after former and current Giallorossi players said that they hoped to see the Olimpico return to normal, on Wednesday Giovanni Malago, the president of CONI and therefore the man ultimately in charge of the Olimpico, made his thoughts on the situation very clear: “Forget about the fact that there haven’t been many fans at the Stadio Olimpico, it’s also a fact that there has neither been an incident nor even any sign of trouble either inside or outside the ground. In life, when you show yourself to be serious, competent and well-meaning, you deserve to have faith put in you,” he said, before adding that the issue “is currently being resolved.”
His statements were completely the opposite of what the president of the National Observatory of Sporting Events, Daniela Stradiotto, had to say in an interview published the same day by La Repubblica. The head of that particular body (which in theory has a primarily consultative remit, but in practice has for almost a decade been imposing bans and restrictions on such innocuous instruments of support as drums and megaphones) initially underlined the fact that “Roma and Lazio supporters have not been singled out for harassment in our dealings with them at all” before continuing the party line of the last few months (often repeated by the former Prefect Gabrielli and Quaestor D’Angelo): “We’re going through a legal process, once this has been completed and the supporters show themselves to be mature, the barriers will be removed.” But one question in particular needs to be asked: why is it that the only thing that has been successfully achieved during this process is emptying the stadium and bringing about a general feeling of unease that has spread through not only the fans but also the club and the wider world of football? It’s impossible to fathom how anyone can deny that the diehard Roma supporters have been persecuted. Perhaps Stradiotto has forgotten the countless examples, such as the endless and dangerous queuing for Roma-Real Madrid, the fines for banners depicting icons of popular culture like Sordi and Proietti, the fines for fans swapping seats. Or how about the obvious provocations during Roma-Sevilla and Roma-Juventus, or the Daspo threats to fans who were supporting the team peacefully outside the stadium during Roma-Sassuolo, not to mention many other similar incidents. But here’s the nub: if some Roma supporters have come back, if a good amount of Lazio’s support in the Curva Nord has returned, if the curve are more full than empty, if nothing has happened to threaten public order and safety, and if those who boycotted the Olimpico have gone back to their seats without causing either damage or problems, why is the preachy line “if you’re good, we’ll take the barriers away” continuing to be repeated to no practical effect instead of simply removing the barriers?
Why is a system in place that punishes everyone, instead of the system which should theoretically be used in any democracy, where it’s the only individual who makes the mistake who gets punished? The authorities have been blindly cracking down on everyone in order to eliminate all forms of dissent, focusing their attention on the social and collective aspect of the curva, instead of on smoke bombs and people who climb over barriers to get into the curva itself. They are still used as a justification, even though the claim of 3,000-4,000 fans climbing over the barriers each game has been repeatedly disproven. “The Olimpico is a special case: there were over 11,000 tightly packed fans in the curva and they did everything except support their own team, like dealing drugs and doing other illicit activities. So, because it isn’t possible to man the emergency staircases, the authorities had to take other measures in the interest of public safety.” Other than wondering exactly what the connection is between occupying the emergency stairways and uncovering illegal activity, you have to ask how it’s possible for such activity to be going on in the first place when the ground is so heavily monitored by cameras and police officers. It would be interesting to see the figures stating how many arrests or complaints there have been in relation to the aforementioned crimes that have taken place during matches involving Roma and Lazio. Because if they are without foundation, throwing these ideas around could give the impression that there is a desire to reinforce the stereotype of the curva supporter in order to justify the new safety measures, which everyone has clearly seen haven’t worked. If there was a group of 11,000 fans who were fostering this activity, we would be talking about a serious criminal conspiracy. Did that really go on in the curve of the capital’s clubs? And for years, the authorities have been letting it go on until now? Really? The problem is that Stradiotto, and many others like her who have imposed repressive and restrictive laws at sports events, isn’t a football fan (as she admitted herself in an interview that coincided with her appointment to the ONMS) and is therefore unlikely to have set foot in a football stadium. It’s a bit like asking a baker how to repair a water pipe.
“The spectators,” she continued in the interview, “need to learn to adapt and understand that they need to sit in their own seats like you would at the theatre or the cinema. Only the Prefect and the Quaestor know the reality of the safety implications of the seating issue.” Why should the stadium be like a theatre or a cinema? While elsewhere in Europe people are trying to designate sectors of the ground where fans can support their teams in ways that we banned years ago, in Italy the aim is to transform a popular sport into show business, governed and limited by bureaucracy. The majority of fans pay for their own ticket in order to be part of this spectacle of songs, colours and a bit of organised chaos (which isn’t to say that people who take it to excess shouldn’t be punished, obviously violence should always be denounced and minimised wherever possible. It should also be said that the number of reported incidents has actually dropped markedly in the last few years). This meaning of this statement is actually a lot more obvious than it may seem: the aim is to take apart and dissolve any sort of traditional support. This sort of support can co-exist with rules and regulations perfectly well without the need for barriers. Moreover, it was even theorised by the Observatory’s own task force, who Gabrielli and D’Angelo mistakenly called upon to justify the installation of the barriers, in their eloquently named dossier: “Stadiums without barriers”.
“The model”, concluded Stradiotto, “is the Juventus Stadium. In Italy, there is still a large number of flags in stadiums and it’s up to the local authorities and the clubs to adapt.” The plurality of flags, in a nutshell, represents the freedom to support standing up with flags, banners, songs and colours in the way that has made Italian football famous throughout the world. This plurality also goes by another name: normality. It’s no coincidence that you can only feel the lack of that normality in Rome. You can even feel it at the Juventus Stadium, Stradiotto’s model example. Just go and watch any of the Bianconeri’s games, and you will see – quite rightly –that their curva produces a typically Italian support, which in Rome is seen like a crime against humanity. People want to bring the model of the Juventus Stadium to the capital? Everyone would be delighted if they did, as it would mean we could go back to the days when fans weren’t called criminals. There are particular laws which are applied to criminals. There is no need for hyperbole and lies which are repeated so often that they are eventually believed to be true.
For now, we can only try to understand why this atmosphere has taken a grip on the city. To do so, look no further than an incident that happened to a fan of Trastevere Calcio (a local Serie D side) a few weeks ago during their game against Agripoli: the supporter, who incidentally happens to work at a local parish church, was subject to fines (from €1000 to €5000) and denounced for “insulting a body of the State” after singing “Radaelli is a piece of shit”. Radaelli, for reference, is the Trastevere goalkeeper and a friend of this particular fan. But the chant was heard by officials, who believed he had said “Gabrielli” rather than “Radaelli”, and who subsequently fined him. It would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic, given that this country sees politicians and various other prominent personalities insulted on a daily basis. But don’t forget, “Roma supporters aren’t being singled out for harassment.”