Ital­ian game in cri­sis

Power strug­gles, le­gal ac­tion and strike threats

World Soccer - - Contents -

An ex­tra­or­di­nary dis­pute has im­per­illed the re­ju­ve­na­tion of women’s foot­ball in Italy with the sport em­broiled in a tug-ofwar be­tween gov­ern­ing bod­ies that has threat­ened the league sea­son.

The women’s game is caught in the mid­dle of a power strug­gle be­tween the Ital­ian FA (Fed­er­azione Ital­iana Gi­uoco Cal­cio – FIGC) and the or­gan­i­sa­tion re­spon­si­ble for am­a­teur play­ers (Lega Nazionale Dilet­tanti – LND), which has re­sulted in le­gal ac­tion and strike threats.

The cri­sis comes as the women’s game, af­ter decades in the dol­drums, had be­gun to re­vive, with the Az­zurre qual­i­fy­ing for the 2019 Women’s World Cup – their first ap­pear­ance this cen­tury. In the do­mes­tic game, Mi­lan and Roma are poised to join Ju­ven­tus and Fiorentina in field­ing teams in the women’s Serie A.

At is­sue is who con­trols the women’s game. Hith­erto played by am­a­teurs, it has been con­trolled by the LND. How­ever, the growth of the women’s game in Europe has en­cour­aged the FIGC to look anew at the na­tional team. And the ar­rival of clubs such as Ju­ven­tus has prompted a de­sire to pro­fes­sion­alise the sport – hence the fed­er­a­tion’s de­ci­sion in May to an­nounce it would be as­sum­ing con­trol of the up­per tiers of the women’s game.

The fed­er­a­tion was con­fi­dent enough to put the tele­vi­sion rights out to ten­der, but the move was met with re­sis­tance by the LND who suc­cess­fully chal­lenged the de­ci­sion in the fed­er­a­tion’s in­de­pen­dent ap­peal court in July. FIGC has ap­pealed to the na­tional Olympic com­mit­tee, which reg­u­lates Ital­ian sport, but in the mean­time the LND are back in charge – in the­ory at least.

In prac­tice, the FIGC and the clubs ap­pear to re­tain the whip hand. Strike ac­tion was mooted and the first ca­su­alty was the Ital­ian Su­perCopa be­tween Ju­ven­tus and Fiorentina, sched­uled for Au­gust 25 but post­poned “at the clubs’ re­quest”. This fol­lowed a comment by Roberto Fab­bricini of FICG that “if the Su­perCopa should be post­poned no­body would die”.

Fab­bricini’s re­sis­tance was stiff­ened by a meet­ing with the big clubs and the play­ers’ union, who stressed their de­sire to be run by the FIGC, in part per­haps as the lat­ter in­tends to make it com­pul­sory for men’s Serie A and Serie B clubs to run fe­male teams.

LND pres­i­dent Cosimo Si­bilia re­sponded with talk of “fake news”, of lit­i­ga­tion out­side sports bod­ies and the claim that FIGC could have sim­ply de­creed the play­ers could be pro­fes­sion­als while leav­ing them un­der LND ad­min­is­tra­tion. Talks con­tin­ued with a press­ing need to find a set­tle­ment be­fore the start of the do­mes­tic league sea­son on Septem­ber 15.

“On a hu­man level I can un­der­stand the am­a­teurs as they lose some­thing as it is start­ing to grow, but the game is go­ing in a new di­rec­tion,” says Ste­fano Braghin, the head of women’s foot­ball at Ju­ven­tus. “The pro­fes­sional clubs have joined the game and the am­a­teur league is not ready for our needs and to work as we nor­mally do. Sooner or later we will be un­der the fed­er­a­tion and start the process to be pro­fes­sional in five years.”

At present play­ers are only paid ex­penses with a max­i­mum be­low € 400a-week, in­clud­ing match bonuses, dur­ing the sea­son. As with all “am­a­teur” sports down the years, there are some ways around these re­stric­tions, such as sub­sidised ac­com­mo­da­tion.

At Ju­ven­tus there is also the lure of full-time train­ing at the club’s Vi­novo fa­cil­ity, while younger play­ers are of­fered pri­vate ed­u­ca­tion. Juve have there­fore man­aged to at­tract many of the best do­mes­tic play­ers and some no­table for­eign ones, in­clud­ing Eng­land in­ter­na­tion­als Eni Aluko and Lianne San­der­son.

“How­ever”, adds Braghin, “the huge play­ers we can­not af­ford. I could not sit down with an Arse­nal player.

“Eni made a life choice, more than foot­ball. In terms of pure salary we can­not af­ford the stan­dard for this kind of player. San­der­son is an­other story be­cause of her in­jury.”

San­der­son, who has been out for nearly two years with a torn an­te­rior cru­ci­ate lig­a­ment, used the med­i­cal staff and fa­cil­i­ties at Vi­novo in re­turn for an un­der­stand­ing that she would play for the club when fit.

Both play­ers ap­pear to have set­tled quickly and their ex­pe­ri­ence will be im­por­tant when Ju­ven­tus be­gin a de­but Cham­pi­ons League cam­paign against Brondby. It is a tricky but ne­go­tiable

“The game is go­ing in a new di­rec­tion. The pro­fes­sional clubs have joined the game and the am­a­teur league is not ready for our needs... sooner or later we will be un­der the fed­er­a­tion” Ste­fano Braghin, head of women’s foot­ball at Ju­ven­tus

fix­ture and a lot eas­ier than it might have been. The women’s Cham­pi­ons League is a knock­out com­pe­ti­tion with seed­ing based on past club per­for­mances, so Ital­ian clubs are rarely seeded.

Ju­ven­tus were well beaten by Chelsea and Arse­nal in pre-sea­son and Braghin says: “We are start­ing from the be­gin­ning and we are aware it takes time, but when you are a club with our his­tory the ex­pec­ta­tion is very high.

“In the do­mes­tic com­pe­ti­tion we would like to be top, in Europe it takes more time. We saw at Arse­nal how far we are from this kind of foot­ball, but we would like to be in the first eight teams within the next three, four years.

“I think in Italy the po­ten­tial is very huge. We are a foot­ball coun­try, every­one plays foot­ball, the cul­ture is very high. At the mo­ment half the pop­u­la­tion can­not play, so we give them the chance”

Af­ter a strike threat three years ago, one of the con­ces­sions won by play­ers was the cre­ation of a fund to cover debts they were owed when a club went bank­rupt. A few months ear­lier the head of the LND, Felice Bel­loli, had been forced out af­ter al­legedly stat­ing: “That’s enough, we can’t al­ways talk about giv­ing money to this bunch of les­bians.”

Az­zure coach Milena Ber­tolini said later: “I knew Bel­loli’s thoughts were Italy’s thoughts. Ital­ians had the same feel­ings to­wards us, but bad things can lead to good things.”

Suc­cess...Italy coach Milena Ber­tolini (cen­tre)

Sign­ing...Eni Aluko with Ste­fano Braghin

un­der­stand­ing... Lianne San­der­son of ju­ven­tus

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.