Dissecting Rome's Soccer Riot: What Went Wrong?
Dutch soccer fans smashed and urinated their way through Rome last week. Could Italian authorities have done anything to stop them?
ROME — There's no question about who was responsible for last week's riot in Rome: the Feyenoord "ultras." The Dutch soccer team's marauding supporters trashed and pissed all over the Spanish Steps, severely damaged the Fontana della Barcaccia in the piazza (the fountain, sculpted by Pietro Bernini, Gian Lorenzo Bernini's father, had just been restored thanks to a 200,000 euro donation from the Bulgari jewelry company), smashed shop windows and destroyed 15 city buses and a number of cars and scooters.
But while the frenzied fans must clearly be held accountable for their actions, it's also worth asking whether the incident could in any way have been prevented. Were there security shortcomings? Did the Roman mayor's office make the right calls? And what about the Interior Ministry?
With all that in mind, let's look at a handful of things that obviously didn't work:
An order to ban alcohol was issued on Wednesday evening by Prefect Giuseppe Pecoraro. But it seems to have been too little too late — Pecoraro issued the order only after receiving a note from the police superintendent. By then Dutch fans had already arrived in Rome.
That night, urban warfare broke out in the Campo dei Fiori piazza, and police ended up arresting 28 hooligans. Why did it take so long to issue the alcohol ban? And why did it only apply to certain bars but not to grocery stores or illegal street vendors?
Monitoring social media
This was a disaster waiting to happen. On Thursday morning, a tweet was sent telling ultras to rally in the historic center at Piazza di Spagna, instead of the Duca d'Aosta bridge, and then travel to the stadium together. Does nobody among Roman authorities check social networks?
Protecting La Barcaccia
After the riots at Campo dei Fiori the night before, should officials not have put up barriers around fountains? Should the city not have taken all possible precautionary measures? Let's not forget that Rome is basically an open-air museum, which makes it very difficult to imagine "locking away" the monuments.
There was no hesitation from Mayor Ignazio Marino in immediately criticizing the prefecture, police forces and the Interior Ministry for what happened. "The orders given to the police were a bad start. Something went wrong, and there weren't enough officers," he said. This week, the mayor will meet with Interior Minister Angelino Alfano, whose resignation is being called for from politicians in the Five Star Movement and far-right Lega Nord.
It's clear that something didn't work in the communication between Italian and Dutch police. News came from Rotterdam that 100 ultras were coming — as it turned out, more than 500 arrived without tickets, traveling from Belgium to avoid checkpoints. Perhaps this short-circuiting of information contributed to the flippancy of the Dutch club. Neither the official Feyenoord website nor the Dutch press properly condemned the depredation of the Piazza di Spagna.
Footing the bill
Dutch Ambassador Michiel Den Hond apologized to Mayor Marino, saying flatly that those who caused damage "will pay." But he also implied that the Dutch government wouldn't take any financial responsibility. "I asked the ambassador whether he intends to intervene in paying for the damages," said Marino after a conference at City Hall, "and he replied that he doesn't believe the Dutch government will pay for the restoration of La Barcaccia."