ITALIAN INTEGRITY RESTORED

"Let's be clear — there can be no whitewash," cried Italy midfielder Gennaro Gattuso in anticipation of the verdict on the match-fixing scandal that has rocked Serie `A'. And he was not disappointed when the outcome of the tribunal was delivered with chief culprits Juventus, now stripped of their last two titles, demoted to Serie B with a 30-point deduction. Fiorentina, Lazio and AC Milan have also been punished to varying degrees but as expected Juve have borne the brunt of the Italian Football Federation's wrath.

The news will spark the greatest transfer scramble in football history with Europe's biggest clubs ready to capitalise on Juve's downfall. Yet while the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Chelsea eagerly pick through the ruins at the Stadio Delle Alpi, others will mourn the fate of a giant of European football.

Juventus, with their famous black and white striped shirts, are one of the most recognised brands in world sport and have sat among Europe's elite for decades. Those involved in the corruption deserved to be punished without remorse but the disgrace of such a great name inevitably creates innocent victims — namely the fans.

Juventus supporters have been preparing themselves for the anonymity of Serie `B' but many approve of the verdict, embracing crippling punitive measures if they mean an end to the corruption that will forever taint the club's name. Past glories and a rich pedigree are poor defences to the crimes committed and the authorities were left with no option but to restore the credibility of Italian football by the harshest means necessary.

The FIGC have acted decisively to make an example of Juventus, delivering a punishment that should act as a deterrent for years to come. The repercussions of their decision will be far reaching, with the prestige of Serie `A' significantly reduced by the impending loss of Juventus' array of household names. Serie `A' has had its heart ripped out and the subsequent effect on revenues will be felt by all clubs in Italy's top flight with broadcasters and sponsors demanding the urgent re-negotiation of contracts.

There had been calls for a whitewash, for the healing power of Italy's World Cup triumph to wash away the sins of the guilty clubs. To draw a line and to forget. Italy's justice minister Clemente Mastella was one who urged leniency, grandly invoking the traditions of ancient Rome in the process, while former Prime Minister and owner of AC Milan Silvio Berlusconi predictably was another.

Thankfully such vested interests have been ignored. The World Cup celebrations are over and reality has bitten. Justice has been done and it should be some time before a club is embroiled in such skulduggery again. Italy's victory over France was a magical moment for a revered footballing nation. But it had no relevance to the investigation of the match-fixing tribunal. Instead, the FIGC have acted with ruthless severity and the restoration of integrity begins to a competition that had become fraudulent and contemptible.

Duncan Bech

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