Soccer Without Violence

ITALY had a day without soccer Feb. 5, giving fans the opportunity to reflect on what it would take to have soccer without violence.

Nearly 40,000 sporting events were canceled in response to the Jan. 29 death of a fan stabbed outside the stadium in Genoa, allegedly by a fan of the opposing AC Milan team.

Incidents of violence have marred soccer matches throughout Europe, and last year in Colombia a player was killed after his team lost to the United States in a World Cup match. But the sport, known to many as football, has too many peaceful fans around the world for violence to be considered inherent to it. The legitimate pride uniting people around their team should be satisfying enough not to be perverted into a hatred of the other side.

The violence in Italy is generally associated with organized fan groups known as ``ultras'' (the counterparts to British ``hooligans''). These groups take a national obsession with soccer to the extreme.

For about 20 years, Rome has successfully used helicopters and large numbers of police at stadiums to detect weapons and control violence. Increased security measures nationwide would be appropriate. Other countries may provide helpful models: In England, the use of TV cameras to monitor the stands and a tougher arrest policy have significantly reduced violence at games.

Some of the most profitable clubs have been criticized for giving the ultras special treatment - reserving sections of the stadiums and providing transportation to away games - and being too dependent on the season-ticket sales they generate. But there is also speculation that extreme groups blackmail teams into giving them free tickets. The perception is that both sides are profiting.

Banning teams from paying for trips by spectators to away games could help. Making teams pay for security would send a strong signal that those who profit from ticket sales cannot shirk responsibility for the safety of the thousands who don't see the stadium as a battle zone.

Nearly 80 percent of Italians supported the decision to call off soccer for the day. This seems to go beyond respect for the latest victim to an acknowledgment that although violent individuals are responsible for their own actions, society has a responsibility to set limits and the right tone when it comes to sports, or any other form of competition.

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