Thursday, January 22, 2009

Right vs. Left: Derby of Politics and Sport

Scandal investigation motivated by a political bias
Tuesday, May 30, 2006

There remains only 10 days before the world comes to a standstill to watch 32 of the very best national soccer teams go head to head in the most prestigious and challenging tournament in sport. Among the favorites to win the World Cup in Germany this summer are the 23 men called up to play for the Italian national team. However, with the recent match fixing scandal to emerge just a month before the pride of the nation is to take the field in Germany to try and win their first International trophy in over 20 years, their morale could very well be drained and their focus completely shaken. Undoubtedly, the work of the magistrates and Judiciary to tackle this recent emergence of corruption is vital to cleaning up the sport and instilling confidence in one of the sports most respected domestic leagues. However, Italian society is never as one sided as either party would want people to believe and although those who have done wrong should be punished, questions must be raised about the motivation behind the committee set up to administer these punishments
Fabio Capello, the coach of the condemned Old Lady of Italian football – Juventus, made an interesting comment during an interview with journalists for La Gazzetta Dello Sport. "This situation can be compared to the bribesville scandal of the 1990’s, as Juventus is just like the Italian Socialist Party of that time and are being targeted for similar offences." It is unclear what Capello truly meant by his comments as some argue he was simply stating the obvious correlations between the cleanup operation of corruption that was taking place in the sport to that of the political one 16 years ago while others suggest he was hinting of some sort of political bias as the true motivation behind the crackdown. It should be made perfectly clear that the world of soccer has condemned Luciano Moggi, Juventus and anyone else who has been involved in the scandal and rightfully so. However, there are indications that the team assigned to hand justice down and make soccer a fair playing field once again are involved in much more than the upholding of simple ethics.
The political scandal of the 1990’s was an epic time in Italy as the grip certain politicians, businessmen and criminals had on society was beginning to unravel and in doing so exposed an alarming network of secret dealings, payoffs, pressure tactics and widespread corruption that was out of control even for Italy’s standards. Benito Craxi, leader of the Italian Socialist Party which was in power at the time was accused of helping prominent businessmen, such as Silvio Berlusconi, who would go on to become Prime Minister of the country twice, in gaining additional access and use of government media networks which helped enrich Berlusconi considerably. The list of additional accusations is quite long but suffices to say the investigation found that there was significant involvement of members of organized crime and that the corruption was truly embedded in all areas of Italian society. The investigation, called the clean hands campaign was initiated and carried out by Milan magistrates and led by a prominent member of the Judiciary at the time, Francesco Saverio Borrelli. No one can deny the importance of the work carried out by Borrelli and the Milan magistrates during the scandal but it has been argued, more acutely by members of the business community and certain right wing political leaders that there was a slight bias to the investigation
Italy, as we know is a relatively young country. In 1948 in signed its present constitution and thus is somewhat new to the democratic principles of government. In addition, the animosity that exists within the country is still a very prominent problem; north, south, east, west, even the small town a few miles away, the differences Italians project have political, cultural and social implications. As a member of the G7 and strong ally to the Untied States, it may come as somewhat of a shock to learn that there is still a strong communist contingent in the country and strong support for it. Men such as Craxi and Berlusconi represent the right wing mentality of Italy; devotion to the individual, to business and to continued productivity. They argue that men such as Borrelli and the Judiciary have always been politically bias towards the more conservative voices of Italian society even though they are given total independence to do their own work. The investigations 16 years ago did target Berlusconi and many other politicians and businessmen but at first glance it would be hard to prove the Judiciary was out to get them. However, a man at the forefront of the accusations such as Berlusconi argued with some degree of accuracy that the government’s regulations which the Judiciary was indirectly defending prevented him and anyone else from pursuing a perfectly justifiable business venture. The Judiciary seemed to care more about his involvement with Craxi which was justifiable but they did very little to deny Berlusconi’s accusations. The possibly of a political bias was fairly weak then but today, the suggestion is much more potent. It has been cleverly dubbed the clean feet campaign and once again at the forefront of the investigation is Borrelli. In addition, the man appointed to take temporary control of the Italian Football Federation after the resignation of Franco Carraro is Guido Rossi, another prominent Italian lawyer but more interestingly, a former senator of the Italian Communist Party
Perhaps the most striking element of this investigation, in addition to Borrelli and Rossi being appointed, is the timing of the scandal’s release to the public. Italy, in past world cups have not done as well as many expected but in all fairness, expectations were somewhat unrealistic as they simply have not been able to field a team capable of dominating on the world stage in the last decade or so. This year however, is much much different. Youth, charisma and self belief have eclipsed the inconsistency and doubtfulness of the past. Six of the starting eleven players have never been to a world cup, and their starting attackers have scored a combined total of 48 league goals in this year’s Serie A campaign, a remarkable feat which has rarely been matched. Francesco Totti, the boy king of Italy and named the best player in the world by Brazilian legend Pele has recovered in time from his broken foot and pundits, for the first time are positive that Marcelo Lippi, Italy’s head coach will abandon the traditional defensive approach to the game they’ve applied in recent years and go for an all out attacking formation. With all this confidence emitting from the training ground, the country and the world suddenly expected Italy to do so much better this summer. It was at this peak that the Judiciary decided to release wire tap evidence they had accumulated over the past year or so and humiliate the entire Italian domestic league at a time when the eyes of the world were focused on the sport and in particular Italy’s chances of success. In addition to the obvious ramifications the scandal has had on the morale of the national team, as the son of Lippi has been put under investigation and star keeper Buffon was questioned about illegal betting, it is once again men of business who are being targeted. Three team presidents are under investigation for match fixing, fraud and tax evasion and a number of players, while training for the world cup have had their homes raided by financial police. The issue is not whether they deserve this treatment or not, because if they did wrong then naturally they should be punished, whether it be fraud, match fixing or any other crime. The timing and obvious lack of interest in the humiliation this scandal has caused certain members of the national team as well as the manager is enough to question the true motives of the investigative team headed by Borrelli and Rossi. Their eagerness to imprint their ethical muscle on the sport has blinded them from the consequences the potentially harsh penalties they will hand out will have on Italy’s national sport. Three of the teams that finished in the top four in this year’s domestic league are being targeted and many believe they will feel the brunt of the Judiciaries will to make an example out of them. Retrocession to Italy’s second division is the harshest penalty they can enforce and those in charge of the investigation seem quite keen to make it happen to all three clubs. If these teams were to get sent down a division, Serie A would effectively collapse for a year and the financial ramifications would be devastating while worldwide support would crumble.
Once again, the experience these men bring to the matter is not being questioned nor the work they are trying to do to clean up the sport in order to discourage corruption in the future. Perhaps stiff penalties are the only way to go. However, the unprofessional and nonchalant attitude they have taken in regard to how much they may be indirectly affecting Italy’s chances for glory this summer in Germany and the pompous attitude to what Serie A and football means to the country both financially and culturally warrants a certain degree of constructive criticism. Old habits and bitter rivalries die hard in Italy, while the potential for national unity and celebration die easily in its shadow.

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