Identity theft

A plan to make fans in Italy carry ID cards has met opposition at all levels. Paul Virgo explains

When interior minister Roberto Maroni announced on a roasting August 15 bank holiday that next year Italian fans will need special club ID cards to see away games, the plan got a fittingly heated response. Ultras throughout Italy united in expressing outrage at the tessera del tifoso and their intention to fight it. The innovation brought the volcanic best out of Palermo chairman Maurizio Zamparini, who described it as “a police system, Fascist, a measure that goes against liberty”.

And, much to Maroni’s annoyance, even Marcello Lippi took a pop. “I don’t like the fans’ card, it ghettoises,” the Italy manager said. “I think of fans out for a meal on Saturday night who [decide they] want to see the match the next day in Milan or Turin but can’t because they don’t have the card. I don’t like any form of labelling, least of all regarding fans.” The comments were quickly rebutted by Lippi’s boss Giancarlo Abete, the head of the Italian football federation, who must have been feeling a tad embarrassed being as he wants the scheme extended to Azzurri followers on trips abroad.

Maroni’s motivation is the need to control a serious hooliganism problem. The cards, which will be issued by the clubs, are the latest in a series of measures brought in after policeman Filippo Raciti was killed at the Catania v Palermo derby in 2007. The minister has been busy stressing the benefits, such as fast-tracked entry to grounds for holders and fewer of the away-fan bans that are frequently applied to high-risk games. But his primary aim is clearly to make it easier to keep out former troublemakers and track down new ones. Indeed, cards will not be issued to people with a DASPO (stadium banning order) or those convicted of a hooliganism-related crime in the last five years.

The main objections are the same as those raised in Britain when the Thatcher government tried to introduce ID cards two decades ago – the authorities are infringing football fans’ civil liberties and treating them all like potential criminals. The old argument that a card is unlikely to do much to stop football-related violence, given that most of it occurs outside the ground, remains a strong one too. It could also look like a way to be seen to be tackling crowd trouble, while heels are dragged on other issues, such as the poor state of the grounds and the Italian police’s unsophisticated and often overzealous approach to handling fans.

There are significant differences with Thatcher’s misguided plan, the biggest being that Maroni’s card will only apply to away sections of grounds. Fans who only go to home games do not need the card. Those at away games are free to buy tickets in a home section and sit with rival supporters – the scheme may end up creating more trouble than it stops if many do that.

One big concern is that the police will use the cards to compile fan databases. But in theory they could do that anyway because you already have to show your national ID card – compulsory for all Italians – when buying a ticket, so they can put your name on it. What the ultras fear most is that the card will be used to implement a law passed after Raciti’s death which states that fans who have had a DASPO should not be allowed into football grounds, even if the banning order has expired. They argue this would be against the Italian constitution.  

Maroni has conceded that the 2007 law should be changed and promised that the card will not lead to life bans for all those who have had DASPOs in the past. The organised ultra groups are likely to remain dubious, though, given that he also said he would like to see the back of them. “I say it is right to dismantle these groups that put pressure on the clubs and have been behind violent acts in recent years,” he told the senate’s constitutional affairs committee. 

If that is Maroni’s aim, the tessera del tifoso will not achieve it. What we basically have is the forced introduction of the member schemes that fans of many big English clubs have to join to have a realistic chance of getting tickets. Perhaps it’s a sign of how far Italian football is behind the times that a ministerial decree will usher in something that marketing strategies brought to the Premier League.

The plan is bound create hassle. Italy can be a very bureaucratic country and the clubs are unprepared – only Inter, AC Milan and Juventus have current schemes in operation – so just getting a card could prove to be difficult. If may well be a curtailment of civil liberties too. But if it is, it is probably no more than what Man Utd and Liverpool have subjected their fans to for some time.

From WSC 273 November 2009