The latest European football championships have just confirmed a well-known fact: Italians love football.
Or, better said, Italians live for it. Football is taken too seriously, and many people identify themselves as Italians only in case of an international sports competition.
In these times of crisis, when the news are occupied by the updates on the new taxes that are being introduced and by the spread index with Germany that is out of control, football is seen as a way to “relieve the pain” within the population.
One example is that Italy’s victory against Germany in the semi-final of the 2012 Euro cup has been seen as a revenge over Angela Merkel’s attitude towards the Mediterranean country, guilty of being one of the major causes of the current Euro crisis.
“Ciao ciao culona” (Bye bye fat ass) was the headline of Il Giornale, in reference to what Silvio Berlusconi said about the German Chancellor on the phone, caught by the police when they were phone tapping the former Italian Prime Minister (“She’s an unfuckable fat ass”).
Also, the match result had a direct impact on the markets, according to some journalists. Mario Balotelli, who scored the two goals for Italy, apparently succeeded in doing what Prime Minister Mario Monti could not, since the former succeeded in reducing the Italy-Germany spread, as reported by many national news agencies.
When a sport receives so much attention, it becomes a double-edged weapon. As a matter of fact, in case of a defeat of the national team, as it actually happened, the tone of the articles gets very serious, with no equal for other news in the country. With the media putting so much pressure on an activity that should be intended as an entertainment only, their influence on people can be highly negative. As a consequence, Italian football supporters tend to be some of Europe’s toughest, after England’s famous hooligans were cut down in numbers thanks to some effective laws from the 1980s to the 2000s.
Violence, riots and street brawls are the contour of many football events. The Italian government tried to put a halt to football violence in 2009, introducing the “Supporter’s ID card”. This card contains the owner’s personal details, and it is the only way to get a ticket, which contains your details as well, and to enter a stadium. Or, at least, this was the intention. In fact, you can easily buy a ticket outside the stadium from touts and still enter using someone else’s credentials, since nobody would probably check your ID.
Inside the country, no other sports are as popular as football. Formula 1 and MotoGP follow in order of preference thanks to Ferrari on the one side and rider Valentino Rossi on the other, but nothing can be compared to the numbers of football. Most of the young people play football as a regular activity, and football is also the most-viewed sport on TV. And TV is actually the first accused of “manipulating” people’s minds: there are countless shows about football, on national and local channels, where hosts and guests argue about this sport as if it was the country’s first issue.
Football, as well as banks, Church and industry, can be considered a proper lobby which is able to influence the country’s politics. The parliament, in 2003, had to vote the so-called “save-football” law, through which the State saved all of the Serie A teams, deeply in debt, from bankruptcy.
At the end of May 2012, during the betting scandal that involved major managers and players of some important football teams, Mr Monti suggested a two-year halt for this sport, which is too often involved in scandals of any kind, stating that “the consequences of such a decision would be nothing but good.”
Shocked replies were not long in coming: Maurizio Zamparini, President of Palermo football club, said that “the only shameful thing in this country is Mr Monti himself!” Actually, football has now gained such great importance in the country’s system, that a stop would be a disaster. The turnover, considering the two major leagues only, Serie A and Serie B, and the betting system, is around six billion Euros, or 5.7 per cent of Italy’s GDP. It also employs 500,000 people, which is surely an important figure to take into consideration.
Football, then, has transformed from a mere entertaining activity to a large chunk of the market that needs to be preserved and protected. Many Italians are more interested in their favourite football team than politics.
Comparing the figures provided by the research agency Demos, 33 per cent of the population trust the political institutions and follow the political activity, while 45 per cent say that they support a football team. In recent years, the two figures have had a negative trend as a consequence to the wave of political discouragement for the first, and the latest betting scandal for the second, but this highlights what really matters in Italy. Especially in times of crisis, people need to be distracted: panem et circenses, bread and circuses, was the response of the Ancient Roman Republic to the needs of the people.
Today, in the modern Italian Republic, we content ourselves with circuses only.