Top Italian female football team defies mafia-style threats

Timesofindia.indiatimes.com LOCRI – One of Italy's top women's indoor foot­ball teams was set to defy a mafia-sty­le threat in the hear­tland of the power­ful 'Ndran­ghe­ta Sun­day, taking to the pitch to the ral­ly­ing cries of top sports figu­res. Spor­ting Locri, a futsal team which com­pe­tes in Italy's top Serie A lea­gue, loo­ked set to clo­se last month after its pre­si­dent recei­ved ano­ny­mous mes­sa­ges threa­te­ning both his todd­ler and the club. Futsal is the increa­sin­gly popu­lar brand of five-a-side indoor foot­ball. Club Pre­si­dent Fer­di­nan­do Arme­ni bowed to pres­su­re and resi­gned befo­re Christ­mas, but the capi­tu­la­tion spar­ked a natio­nal out­cry, with the Ita­lian Foot­ball Fede­ra­tion (FIGC) step­ping in to insi­st the team must play on. 

With the club now hea­ded up tem­po­ra­ri­ly by the town's mayor Gio­van­ni Cala­bre­se, Spor­ting Locri will squa­re up to Lazio at 1700 GMT in a match broa­d­ca­st live on natio­nal tele­vi­sion and atten­ded by FIGC pre­si­dent Car­lo Tavec­chio. The Lazio team loo­ked defiant Sun­day as it flew in from Rome to Cala­bria, a region in the grip of the riche­st and most power­ful syn­di­ca­te in Euro­pe and which in 2014 had the highe­st level of unem­ploy­ment in Ita­ly, at 23.4 per­cent. Ita­ly has laun­ched a pro­be into the mes­sa­ges orde­ring Arme­ni to shut down the club, inclu­ding a note left on the car-seat of his three-year-old daughter. The for­mer pre­si­dent, who­se tyres were also sla­shed, told jour­na­lists he had no idea who was behind the threa­ts – and bru­shed off press rumours that the real rea­son he resi­gned was becau­se the club had finan­ce pro­blems after over-inve­sting in players from Spain. Top anti-mafia pro­se­cu­tor Nico­la Grat­te­ri, who has lived under armed guard for the past 26 years after death threa­ts and seve­ral attemp­ts on his life, told AFP "the team abso­lu­te­ly must not clo­se its doors". 

"They not only have to keep play­ing but they have to be given psy­cho­lo­gi­cal assi­stan­ce becau­se I can only ima­gi­ne the stress the­se poor girls have been put under," he said, adding that the team was "a sour­ce of pri­de for this region". Foot­ball is a honey­pot for the mafia, which makes vast pro­fi­ts from match-fixing as well as using the sport as a means to recy­cle ill-got­ten gains. It has pro­ved espe­cial­ly use­ful for the ndran­ghe­ta, which is cre­di­ted with con­trol­ling much of the world's cocai­ne tra­de. In May, 50 peo­ple were arre­sted in a vast sting which unco­ve­red match-rig­ging by the mob­ster syn­di­ca­te at some 30 foot­ball clubs, invol­ving foot­ball players, coa­ches and club owners. But Grat­te­ri, 57, inter­viewed at the hea­vi­ly-guar­ded poli­ce hea­d­quar­ters in the sou­thern-Ita­lian city, said he did not belie­ve the 'Ndran­ghe­ta was behind the Spor­ting Locri threa­ts. "The 'Ndran­ghe­ta is pre­sent whe­re there's money to be had and power to be had. In this case, there's no money, no power."

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