Sunday, April 22, 2007

The hand of good’ol Blatter (and Platini)!

The truth behind Italy not being awarded the 2012 European soccer championship? Well, I don’t have it written in stone, but I suspect the following happened: Sepp Blatter, FIFA’s president, and his “dauphin”, “Le Roi” himself, Michel Platini, probably didn’t terribly appreciate the fact that Marco Materazzi “à-la-italiana” provoked Zidane last summer during the Italy-France World Cup final in Germany into reacting and thus getting himself thrown out of that all-important match.

My soccer expert friends in Rome (who know a thing or two about soccer) said that Zidane that night was like a hot knife going thru butter with the Italian defence. The Italians appeared somewhat worried with the great French played on the pitch, until Materazzi came out with his string of insults directed at the Frenchman (Materazzi has never been known to be a saint in the Italian league). Having modestly played on defence for most of my youth, I can assure readers that a terrific player is always a son-of-a-bitch for ANY defender. With Zidane out of the match, it was certainly better for Cannavaro and Co. than having him IN the match, not to mention that the French ended up playing with 10 players vs. 11 Italians.

Blatter justified his absence from the awards ceremony by saying that he wanted to avoid the German president further embarrassment because with Blatter’s presence in the stadium fans had heckled him. B.S.! World Cups belong to FIFA and NOT to UEFA, so what the hell was UEFA’s president Johansson doing awarding Cannavaro the World Cup? ALL FIFA presidents have been present at the final of a World Cup match, including the women’s finals (I’ve also been present at a Women’s World Cup final, the one in 1999 at the Rose Bowl. THE happiest man on the podium that day wasn’t America’s captain Carla Overbeck but rather Blatter!). What I suspect happened is that both Blatter and Platini chased after Zidane right after the final whistle to ask him what the hell had happened and why the hell he had fallen for Materazzi’s taunts. It was in fact France which was to have won that World Cup title, not Italy. Had France won, the entire world press would have crowned Zidane the undisputed king of that event and in the long run would have given even MORE power to Platini, a probable successor to Blatter one day as president of FIFA (it certainly doesn’t hurt that he’s now UEFA’s president).

Italy didn’t get the Euros because of stadium violence (one of the justifications by the Italian sports media)? Again b.s.! There had been stadium violence throughout the 1980s in Italy, and yet the nation was awarded the 1990 World Cup (which I got to work at. Buckets of money were wasted re-building decrepit stadia, not to mention some 25 workers who had died in the re-construction of these stadia). We can therefore say “grazie” to Marco Materazzi if some 800 million Euros worth of revenues have gone up in smoke as a result of Italy not getting the 2012 Euros. Congrats instead to the Poles and the Ukraines and may they put on a terrific show for all of us in Europe (including Italians)!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The same old soup (part 3, 4, 5 or…)

The Roma-Manchester United soccer match a few weeks ago (2-1) and the return Manchester United-Roma game (a whopping 7-1 for M.U.!) the other day saw the usual nauseating stadium violence. In the Rome match several M.U. fans were beaten senselessly by rather hyper Italian cops. Naturally, the good’ol blah-blah-blah occurred right after both matches, in particular the Rome game (Rome’s mayor Walter Veltroni was slightly offended when a Manchester newspaper had warned its fans to be careful of certain neighbourhoods in Rome. While crime in Rome is not per se terribly violent—the crime rate though has increased by 9% and Rome has apparently become the most violent city in Italy—as other major international cities, car and scooter thefts as well as pick pocketing on buses and in the subways are not only rampant but also a bloody plague to both Italians and foreign tourists!).

History again repeats itself, exactly 10 years after: October 15, 1997. I was with a good Canadian friend of mine, who also worked at the Canadian Embassy in Rome, at the Italy-England match in Rome’s Olympic stadium during the qualifier for the 1998 French World Cup. Cesare Maldini was Italy’s head coach at the time. We got to the stadium at about 5.30 pm in order to meet other friends. The tension was sooooo thick that night that you could have cut it with a knife: Italian papers didn’t help either as for about 1 solid week before the game they spoke about up to 500 of THE most dangerous British hooligans who were going to descend upon Rome “à-la-Attila the Hun”! Mass destruction was in the works according to the papers.

We had over our heads about 3 or 4 police and carabinieri helicopters plus traffic cops and also finance police officers. About all that was missing was John Wayne and the Indians! And yet, about 30 metres from us, who was working totally undisturbed? Neapolitan scalpers (I managed to understand their accents)! It’s really no wonder then that the 500 hooligans managed to get inside the stadium with illegal tickets.

The match, which I thought was rigged anyway, ended up 1-1 (rigged in the sense that had Italy won TOTAL mayhem would have been unleashed by the British fans on Rome, mayhem worthy of Nero’s days. Ditto had England won. The Italian fans would have chewed up the English fans. In fact, just with a tie, up to 85 fans were injured, including an Italian kid who had had his eye gauged out with a broken beer bottle!). Very eloquent indeed was a banner in the north curve of the stadium. It read the following: “England fuck-off”! (and strangely enough, for tv viewing purposes, it was immediately removed). My friend and I, both speaking English the entire time, entered the stadium with absolutely no problems (n.b. the average Italian cop doesn’t know the difference between an American, English, Australian, Scottish or Irish accent if his/her life depended on it). We did though get some strange looks from the surrounding Italian fans in the south curve, but no one dared touch us.

I even recall that I was not all that concentrated on the match because with one eye I was watching the pitch and with the other I was watching what was going on to the left of us on the opposite side of the curve: Italian fans were taunting English fans through the glass walls, and vice-versa. They were also throwing garbage and what not at them. The day after my friend called his colleague at the British embassy to find out how things ended up that evening. It turns out that English fans, INCLUDING British embassy personnel, were not only holed up in the stadium until 2 a.m. (and thus many were furious that they had missed their return flights to England) but many women even had their Valentino belts (from their very own pants) removed prior to entering the stadium because they could have been used as weapons (I on the other hand was not at all frisked when I entered the stadium, and I was speaking in English with my friend).

Having worked at several embassies, I can assure readers that you’re not going to embarrass the government that your working for with acts of violence at international or events (let us just say that your big boss, the ambassador, wouldn’t be terribly happy of seeing his embassy in the local papers). Why on earth EVEN embassy officials were kept together with the average English fan (when I say “average” I don’t intend a hooligan), is totally beyond me.

I only presume that the same thing happened for the Roma-M.U. match in Rome, thus not only repeating what had happened to us in 1997 but again giving Italy and the rest of the world the usual bad image of a totally inefficient country. Also from a linguistic point of view: the latest news comes from UEFA’s PR man: he said one of the causes of the scuffles in Rome the other day was (also) due to the fact that many Italian police officers probably didn’t know English well, or at all for that matter. Nothing much has changed from 10 years ago…

Water! Water! My kingdom for a glass of water!

An article a few days ago in La Repubblica said that by 2080 between 1.1 and 3.2 billion people will have difficulty finding drinkable water. In the meantime, Rome’s mayor, Walter Veltroni, has already gone on a few occasions to exotic and faraway places such as Mozambique to inaugurate water wells.

The following pictures instead show several water fountains which are located in Rome. In one square not too far away from where I live (precisely in Piazza Re di Roma), there are about 3 or 4 fountains some 10 metres from each other that constantly spew out fresh, clear water 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, 365 days per year. They say that there are about 2,000 of these so-called “Nasoni” (affectionately called “Big Noses” by the Romans) located throughout the Eternal City. I’ve heard Roman dog owners say that they don’t prefer water taps on the fountains (which would save millions and millions of litres of water each year) because that way their beloved Fidos in the summer can lap up the fresh stuff without their “poor” owners having to open and close the water tap. Stupidity to the nth power!

There’s been a recent Italian campaign to collect funds in order to bring fresh water to kids in far away places such as Nepal. I’m wondering instead what a poor kid in the Darfur region of Sudan must think about those poor, thirsty Roman dogs as he/she hasn’t probably had a fresh glass of clean water (and not infested) since being born! (all photos by M. Rimati)