ROME, ITALY - Italian professional soccer should be halted for two or three years to get over the match-fixing scandal which has spattered its image, Prime Minister Mario Monti said on Tuesday.
The widening scandal has seen a number of top players arrested, the coach of this year’s championship club placed under investigation and the national team training headquarters raided by police.
“It’s particularly sad when a world which should be an expression of the highest values - sport, youth, competition, fairness - turns out to be a mass of foul play, falsehood and demagoguery,” he said at a news conference with visiting Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk. “This isn’t a government proposal, but I wonder if it wouldn’t be a good idea to suspend the game for two or three years.”
Monti’s comments were immediately denounced as “rubbish” by the head of one Serie A club.
The idea is unlikely to gain much traction in Italy, a country which is both obsessed by the game and inured to an apparently endless series of financial, political and sexual scandals in recent years.
But it underscores the growing disgust over an affair which has shone a harsh light on the pervasive corruption at many levels of Italian society.
“It’s so easy for the great majority of citizens to see the origin of all Italy’s problems in politics,” Monti said. “It’s a big mistake.”
In the latest phase of an operation which began last year, police placed Antonio Conte, coach of championship-winning Juventus, under investigation on Monday over allegations relating to a 2011 match between his previous club Siena and Novara.
They also arrested Stefano Mauri, captain of Lazio, one of the two big clubs in Rome, and raided the Italian national team’s training base at Coverciano after placing Italy defender Domenico Criscito under investigation.
The scandal echoes earlier match-fixing affairs in 1980 and 2006, further tarnishing the image of Italian soccer which has long lost the pre-eminent position in the European game it enjoyed during the 1990s.
With less than two weeks before the start of the European championships in Poland and Ukraine, Italian fans may draw comfort from the fact that previous scandals preceded Italy’s victories in the 1982 and 2006 World Cups.
Prosecutors believe an international gambling ring paid players to throw matches deliberately.
Dozens of current and former players in teams ranging from the Serie A top division down to the lower leagues may have been involved. However, reaction from the clubs has been largely defensive and the head of one Serie A club said he was “talking rubbish”.
“Before saying we need to stop playing football he should think about his own problems and everything he is destroying and closing down with his laws,” said Maurizio Zamparini, president of Palermo. “Monti is showing his ignorance because professional football clubs pay 800 million euros to the state every year.”
The scandal comes at a time when Italian clubs, like many others in Europe, are struggling to make ends meet while paying astronomical salaries to their top stars.
According to a report in business daily Il Sole 24 Ore on Tuesday, losses at Italian clubs totalled 428 million euros during the 2010/11 season.