Empty German Stadiums
Soccer Games Cancelled in Saxony in Wake of Violence
A soccer riot in Leipzig on Saturday has led authorities to cancel games at every level this coming weekend in the entire state of Saxony. "Italian circumstances can't be tolerated," says the head of Germany's police union, referring to a policeman killed in an Italian soccer riot earlier this month.
Soccer officials in the German state of Saxony cancelled around 60 matches scheduled for this weekend in reaction to a riot by hooligans last Saturday. The decision comes in the wake of similar measures in Italy, where a policeman was killed by a hooligan during a riot in Sicily on Feb. 2.
"Cancelling games is a symbolic act," said Klaus Reichenbach, president of Saxony's soccer federation. "We had to send a message." And Saxony's interior minister Albrecht Buttolo said, "To me an empty stadium is a thousand times better than a policeman's funeral."
Both local police and soccer players were upset by the violence in Leipzig on Satuday, when some 800 fans of FC Lokomotive Leipzig attacked 300 police officers, apparently in frustration because their team lost. Police said 36 officers and six fans were injured and 21 police vehicles were vandalized. "There could have been deaths," said Konrad Freiburg, head of Germany's police union, who said officers felt targeted by the rioters.
"Italian circumstances," he added, "can't be tolerated."
Italian policeman Filippo Raciti lost his life during a soccer riot in Sicily on Febr. 2 when a hooligan threw a bathroom sink at his head. The suspect is a 17-year-old neo-fascist. Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi said hooligans had turned a national pastime into "a guerilla war," and his government ordered suspension of all games for over a week. Play resumed last weekend, but only six Italian stadiums were deemed safe enough to let spectators in. All other matches -- in more than 25 stadiums nationwide -- played to empty seats.
Hooligan violence is often political, and riots have been on the rise in Europe since Germany hosted a
largely peaceful World Cup in 2006. Saxony has been especially troubled, and Germany's national soccer federation president Theo Zwanziger threatened to cancel all play there if hooligans don't behave. If we cant stop the violence in the end, despite all our efforts," he said, "then we cant allow football to be played there anymore."