LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Amid concerns over violence at the World Cup in Russia, one Italian city claims to have found the answer to football hooliganism - make rowdy fans swap brass knuckles for brooms.
For more than two decades, supporters of Genoa’s two rival teams - Sampdoria and Genoa - have joined forces to clean their stadium in a scheme city officials credit with helping to end years of violence.
“(The) heated confrontations we had for a period of time ... abated significantly,” Stefano Anzalone, councillor for sport in the city, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation
After street violence led to dozens of injuries and arrests in Genoa, in the early 1990s authorities offered hard-core fans known as “ultras” the chance to launch a company to tackle the problem.
Genova Insieme, a social enterprise, was officially launched in 1992, tasked with employing rival hooligans to clean the Luigi Ferraris stadium where both Genoa and Sampdoria play.
Social enterprises are businesses with a mission to benefit society or the environment.
In Italy the number of social cooperatives, a type of social enterprise that get tax cuts in return for providing social services, rose 43 percent to more than 16,000 between 2011 and 2015, according to the national statistics bureau ISTAT.
Toiling shoulder by shoulder helped to ease tensions and gave disadvantaged youths a fresh start, said Roberto Scotto, the 58-year-old Genoa fan who has run the company since 1994.
“Problems arise when young people hang out with little to do. Those who have a job and something to lose don’t get into trouble,” said Scotto. “None of those who worked with us has since had any stadium-related issue.”
Scotto said the model could help other countries tackle football hooliganism, which is a concern for the organizers of the World Cup that kicks off on June 14.
Some media have predicted a possible repeat of the brawls between Russian and English fans at the 2016 European championship in France although Russia has vowed to crack down on crowd unrest.
On Wednesday, British authorities said they blocked more than 1,200 people with a history of football-related disorders from traveling to the World Cup.
Europe’s football governing body, UEFA, has said it welcomed initiatives “in the framework of peer control” that contributed to a friendly atmosphere in and around stadiums.
Scotto, however, said policing remains the strongest deterrent against violence at large events like the World Cup, where visiting fans are loosely organized and have no ties to the local community.
He said Genova Insieme now has about 100 staff, up from a dozen when it started, and still draws staff from the grandstands but also provides job opportunities to ex-convicts and drug and alcohol addicts.
He said the rivalry within the company only heats up when the Genoa and Sampdoria are to play each other.
“That week we can’t speak to one another, but otherwise we have a great relationship,” said Scotto.
Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Claire Cozens and Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org