Rome ready to defy critics with perfect final

Rome will mount a huge security operation to try to avoid trouble at Wednesday’s Champions League final and prove UEFA were right to award the showpiece to the city.

Manchester United and Barcelona will meet at the Stadio Olimpico in one of the world’s biggest annual one-night sporting events.

The beautiful ancient capital of football-obsessed Italy seems the perfect choice for such an occasion, with the template for modern sporting stadiums — the Colosseum — featuring on the event logo.

However, several European games here in recent years have been marred by violence involving hard-core ”ultra” fans of AS Roma, with roving gangs armed with flick-knives committing stabbings away from the stadium.

William Gaillard, special advisor to UEFA president Michel Platini, threatened to take the final elsewhere before Roma’s quarterfinal against Manchester United last season if there was a repeat of the violence that hit United’s previous two visits.

That did not happen but the issue flared up again after Arsenal fans were attacked before their team knocked out Roma in a last-16 second leg in March.

London-based newspaper the Times started a campaign to have the final moved, branding Rome, which also hosted the 1977, 1984 and 1996 finals, ”stab city”.

Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno took exception and has vowed to make the newspaper eat its words.

”The campaign against us is quite simply ungenerous and insulting. This is not the first time that Rome has hosted the Champions League final,” Alemanno wrote in a letter to the Times.

”I should also like to point out, by way of an answer to the statements in the article, that a Google search with the words ‘London’ and ‘stabbed’ brings up 2 670 000 pages, 10 times those that appear for Rome.

”That alone should prove beyond reasonable doubt how mistaken the affirmations in that article really are.”

Police optimistic
Gaillard said the fact that Italy’s four representatives in the competition had been eliminated before the quarterfinals would help policing.

”Rome has now become a defacto neutral venue for the final which should make life easier. We are confident we will have everything in place to ensure a safe final for all fans,” he told Reuters.

Italian police are optimistic that, with a huge security presence, good preparation and the help of 1 000 stewards, they can make good on Alemanno’s and Gaillard’s promises.

”We are not too worried,” Gioacchino di Mellio, a senior Carabinieri police official, told Reuters.

”We are consolidating basic technical measures for assuring public order and developing additional activities regarding hypothetical scenarios, such as a bomb warning inside the stadium or the arrival of fans without tickets.

”So our men are tranquil. They are able to face every kind of situation, even under major psychological stress. They do not have any problems at all.”

Racism storm
Italian Football Federation chief Giancarlo Abete said help would also come from foreign police forces, especially British security experts.

”We are putting into place all the measures required for an event of this importance,” Abete told reporters.

”When there are major sporting events there is an exchange [of information and know-how] involving the forces of law and order to make use of professional skills from different countries.

”Naturally the Italian security forces will have a primary role, but there is synergy with the whole European security system.”

Italian football was also hit in the run-up to the final by a storm caused by Juventus fans racially abusing Inter Milan’s black 18-year-old forward Mario Balotelli in a Serie A match.

The affair overshadowed the April ceremony to hand Rome the Champions League trophy for the final, when Abete and Platini said they would take action so that games were stopped when racist chants happened in future.

Abete said the final itself would show Italy in a different light.

”It’s a great opportunity for Rome to show the city’s hospitality,” he said. ”We hope all the measures are just for prevention. It’s a football match and it should be a great festival of sport.” – Reuters

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