Monday, November 12, 2007

Rome is actually burning

The Vandals sacked Rome again this week.

This particular riot looks like it could be one of the worst. Fans of Lazio and Juventus feuded alongside a highway in Tuscany. Police attempting to break up the fighting fired shots into the air to get people to stop. One of the shots hit Gabriele Sandri in the neck, killing him while he sat in a car.

Then the trouble started. 500 fans rioted and attacked three police stations in Rome, injuring about 40 police officers and destroying several police vehicles.

While this incident is shocking and disturbing in a vacuum, it needs to be looked at in the larger context of Italian culture. Italy has had 61 different goverments since the end of World War II. The country has gone through economic depressions while it's global and European power have ebbed. Their most recent ex-prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, has a control over politics, economics, media and sports in Italy that George Bush, Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch and George Steinbrenner only wish they could have in America, and frequently faced corruption allegations both personally and within his administration.

Despite all of this, nothing seems to get Italians riled up quite like a game of soccer. Last year it was a referee match-fixing scandal that rocked Serie A and threatened to bring down 2006 World Cup goalkeeping hero Gianluigi Buffon.

Two years ago, another 2006 World Cup star, Italian captain and defender Fabio Cannavaro, was implicated in a drug controversy when a video surfaced Cannavaro taking neoton, a creatine phosphate.

And as for riots before, during and after soccer matches, well, they aren't exactly new in Old Europe, where feuds between rival groups of fans are old hat.

This kind of riot on this kind of scale is only really possible in the soccer world. Watching sports in America, specifically stadium sports like football and baseball, is an entirely different is simply not the same. Americans don't have nearly as many songs or chants. 90 percent of fans at any sporting event watch the game passively, snacking on a $10 chicken finger and french fry basket while watching much of the action on a JumboTron, occasionally cheering along to "We Will Rock You" or some other over-played anthem rock.

Granted, Americans engage in their fair share of drunken debauchery and fisticuffs at tailgates and in the stands at football games. But it simply pales in comparison to the lengths that even fans of lower-league European and South American soccer fans go to while supporting their teams.

Consider this Liverpool vs. Juventus video:

How often do you see AN ENTIRE STADIUM full of people singing and waving signs at a professional sporting event? I'll grant you some college basketball arenas and a few college football stadiums. But even the alcohol-induced fandom of the biggest sports-crazed SEC student pales in comparison to that exemplified by the average hooligan.

I'm not condoning what went on in Italy, or any of the violent riots at soccer matches around the world. But I wish there was some kind of happy medium between fans abroad who engage in insane soccer riots and fighting, and fans here, who passively watch their favorite team while sipping a Miller Lite and doing the wave six or seven times a game.

No comments: