Italy and football go together almost as fittingly as Italians and pasta. The Azzurri (national team) are a national obsession, and the fans are just as fanatical about the top professional league, Serie A. While names such as Internazionale, Juventus and AC Milan have a major global presence, every club has its share of passionate supporters. I wonder, however, if they are aware that what they are watching is actually athletic theatre. Given today’s significance as Super Bowl Sunday in America, where players are supposed to perform “on the biggest stage”, I figured the timing is good!
What, you thought these games were actually contested on the field? I love Serie A as much as the next guy, but in the country that gave the world organized crime, it would be irresponsible to think that that activity has not trickled down onto the football pitch.
Match fixing became front page material (again) in 2011 when it came out that several former Italian footballers were involved in fixing matches across several leagues in the country.
To detail the extent of it, look no further than the autobiography of Matias Almeyda, an Argentine national who played for eight years in Serie A with Lazio, Parma, Brescia and Inter. Almeyda outlines stories of performance-enhancing drugs being fed to players through IV tubes before games: “They said it was a mixture of vitamins, but before entering the field I was able to jump as high as the ceiling.”
Perhaps more disturbing than the potential long-term health effects of these suspected steroids (Junior Seau, anyone?) are the close ties Almeyda talks about between some clubs and organized crime families.
After a disagreement with Parma owner Stefano Tanzi, Almeyda claims that his house was broken into, his car was stolen from his own garage, and a message was left on the wall with machine oil. That’s kind of like opening a box on your doorstep only to discover a pig’s head inside—well, maybe not that bad, but you get the point. What’s worse, Almeyda said the exact same thing happened to teammate Savo Milosevic after a similar issue with Tanzi.
Long live Serie A as a form of top-flight entertainment, but I’ll side with a few centuries of Italy’s organized crime culture over a few hodgepodge efforts of Serie A to clean itself up in light of some international media attention. And, I’ll keep watching, too!