ROME — After a weeklong ban, Italian professional soccer will be back in action this weekend, but fans will be barred from many stadiums as the government enforces strict new security measures to crack down on the deadly hooliganism that has marred the sport of late.
The decision was reached on Wednesday night after a series of meetings between league and government officials convened to address the escalation in violence that has killed two and injured scores in recent weeks.
All professional matches were cancelled after last weekend’s deadly riot in the Sicilian city of Catania leaving broadcasters Sky Italia and Mediaset — the primary rights holders, which have paid more than $600 million for TV rights this season — scrambling for substitute programming.
Calls for a season-long stoppage were made. But in the end, the government and league officials agreed to resume the season, behind closed doors in some cases where the security is deemed lacking.
On Thursday, Italy’s interior ministry released a list of stadiums — six in total, including Rome’s Olympic Stadium, home to Serie A clubs AS Roma and Lazio — that make the grade to host matches with fans. Notably, Milan’s San Siro, home to Silvio Berlusconi’s AC Milan — did not make the cut, creating the improbable scenario that one of Europe’s most famous teams will have to play all its home matches in an empty stadium this season.
The interior ministry on Thursday also banned night matches for February, a ban that could be extended if security measures do not improve.
The decision, while widely expected, could hurt Rupert Murdoch’s Sky Italia. The satcaster has paid to broadcast the lion’s share of league matches and its highest-rated program of the week is the Sunday night match on Sky Sport 1.
Sky Italia said it will show soccer in the time slot anyhow, opting for either a re-run of an afternoon match or it will carry a match from England’s Premier League or Germany’s Bundesliga.