Italy is famous as the romantic land of opera, art and good food, but in recent months it has become better known for its nasty soccer violence problem. Italian stadiums have become some of the most dangerous in Europe, no-go zones for all but the most committed soccer fans -- some of whom have shown an increasing tendency towards violence.
Now the government is taking radical measures to combat the problem. The Italian parliament passed wide-ranging anti-hooliganism legislation Tuesday, almost exactly two months after the death of a police officer during a riot at a soccer match. The senate voted for the law by a landslide majority of 244 votes in favor and only one against. There were 20 abstentions.
The new law encompasses a package of measures designed to help tackle the hooliganism problem. Entrance tickets can no longer be block-booked by visiting fans. Clubs that have ties with organizations of hardcore fans, known as "ultras," will face fines of between €20,000 and €100,000. Spectators who force a match to be abandoned by throwing firecrackers and flares will face prison sentences, and flags and banners that incite violence are banned. Suspected hooligans can now be banned from stadiums even if they haven't been convicted of a crime.
Other safety requirements will include security cameras and electric turnstiles that read the fans' names on the tickets. The new law also obliges Italian soccer clubs to distribute free tickets to youngsters under 14, in a bid to attract more families to the stadiums.
Most of the measures had already been put into force at Italian soccer games as a government decree immediately after the death of police officer Filippo Raciti on Feb. 2. Raciti was killed outside Catania's Massimino stadium on Sicily during a match between the home team and visiting Palermo.
Italian lawmakers had 60 days to turn the decree into law. The lower chamber of parliament had already approved the law before it was sent to the senate.
Italy's interior minister, Giuliano Amato, dedicated the law to the memory of Raciti. "It is important that the decree against soccer violence became law today, otherwise the fundamental rules of security for our sport and our police forces were at risk," he said. "I consider this a tribute by everyone to the memory of Raciti."
Italian fans have a bad reputation in Europe for hooliganism. While the English used to be the bad boys when it came to soccer violence, a number of violent incidents involving English soccer fans in the 1980s -- including the Heysel Stadium disaster in 1985 which left 39 dead -- forced the English game to clean up its act.
The extent of the concern over the potential for trouble in Italy was made clear when Manchester United wrote to its supporters in advance of a European Champions League game with AS Roma on Wednesday. English fans were warned to avoid Rome's tourist spots as there was a "real danger of being attacked by the 'ultra' fans of AS Roma."
Last year, during another European match, three supporters of the English club Middlesborough were stabbed and 10 others were injured when they were attacked by Roma "ultras."