Building blocks

Amid the gloom, some hope that the staging of the 2012 European Championship could be Italy’s Euro 96. Matthew Barker reports on the hopes invested in a bid and the new stadiums that may result

In the weeks leading up to the death of Filippo Raciti, the Italian sporting press was quietly optimistic of a successful bid to host the 2012 European Championship. Ahead of the announcement on April 18, so too were the clubs, with some, notably Juventus and Lazio, unveiling plans for new or rebuilt homes, set to benefit from generous tax concessions and credit deals from a government keen to be seen to back the bid, if reluctant actually to bankroll it.

The government’s reaction to events left the state of the country’s stadiums starkly exposed. The Italian FA (FIGC) had originally introduced regulations in 2005, including nominated ticketing, electronic turnstiles, pre-filtering areas, CCTV cameras and a dedicated police station; all part of a “zero tolerance” approach to disturbances in and around grounds. When football resumed on February 11, only six stadiums (in Rome, Genoa, Turin, Messina, Palermo and Siena) were able to host full houses.

But grounds are owned by local councils (a legacy of Mussolini) and any improvements first need to go through various committees and financial working groups – a long, frustrating process that can be ultimately futile, as Brescia found to their cost last year, when plans for a new stadium were bogged down in town-hall bureaucracy. The richer clubs have long looked to private ownership as a vital commercial progression (the need to adopt the modello inglese has become something of a mantra).

Juventus released their blueprints to refurbish the Stadio delle Alpi during the weekend of the Catania riot. The unpopular ground on Turin’s outskirts will be transformed into a smaller, 40,000-capacity “family-friendly place of entertainment”, in the words of the club’s chief executive. Juve were given the go-ahead by the city and the national government within days. They’ll rent the Olimpico – formerly known as the Comunale – until the new stadium is ready in 2010, at a cost of €200,000 (£134,000) a year, but must wait until the outcome of the 2012 bid before they can take advantage of any financial incentives (Fiat and Nike are waiting in the wings as potential back-up benefactors).

In Milan, Inter’s club patron Massimo Moratti is keen on upping sticks to a site in the city’s Rogoredo district, while AC (whose home the Giuseppe Meazza was originally) are looking at redeveloping the ground. Rossoneri vice-president Adriano Galliani recently claimed that, if Inter were to find a new home, Milan would look to buy the stadium (the current renting deal lasts until 2030, but has a five-yearly window allowing either or both clubs to pull out). Moratti is seeking preparatory meetings with the mayor (who also happens to be his sister-in-law); for its part, the council is unenthusiastic about letting such a likely cash cow slip from its grasp before a major international tournament.

Planning for Lazio’s proposed Stadio delle Aquile (Eagles Stadium) is now at an advanced stage, while Sampdoria intend to move to a site near Genoa’s airport. The Ligurian capital is one of four reserve cities lined up if UEFA opt to extend the 2012 competition to 24 teams. The Italians have always assumed the tournament would increase in size, submitting their bid accordingly.

Of the other bidders, UEFA have admitted they are concerned about Ukraine’s and Croatia’s economy and the current volatile nature of politics in Hungary, while the Polish game is still in some turmoil following the recent corruption scandal and subsequent suspension of the country’s FA. The truth is that neither Croatia/Hungary nor Poland/Ukraine is a credible alternative to Italy. The country’s developed tourism industry, infrastructure and success hosting previous tournaments all work strongly in its favour.

FIGC temporary commissioner Luca Pancalli met Michel Platini in the week after Filippo Raciti’s death, receiving assurances from UEFA’s president that the efforts to create a new culture of watching football had his backing. Euro 96 is seen in Italy as the rebirth of the English game and the 2012 tournament is increasingly viewed as a comparable fresh start for calcio. There are now a nervous few weeks before the announcement of the winning bid in Cardiff on April 18. With the clubs, particularly the richer elite, primed to develop new grounds and impatient about the previous lack of progress, failure could see further upheaval.

And Platini told Pancalli that UEFA refuse to grant tournaments to countries without a full‑time FA head. As if the next few weeks weren’t going to be turbulent enough, it now looks as if Pancalli will have to stage a quick election.

From WSC 242 April 2007. What was happening this month