In Italian mafia stronghold, women soccer players take a stand

Thu Jan 28, 2016 8:31am EST
 
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By Tony Gentile

LOCRI, Italy (Reuters) - This seaside town in Italy's deep south has long been a hotbed for the Calabrian mafia, which uses threats and violence to extort virtually every businessman, from the pizzerias to the fishmongers.

But the 12 young women of the Sporting Locri soccer club refused to cave in to fear when the club president said he received threats from the mob to shut down the club or else. They took a stand and kept playing even when the president himself quit.

"It's time to close this Sporting Locri. Leave!" read one of the notes left on the car of then-President Ferdinando Armeni.

When Armeni announced the closure of the club just before Christmas and stepped down as president, the community of almost 13,000 people, backed by the mayor and national soccer authorities, rallied around the women and kept the team going.

Earlier this month a new president took over and this week a new coach and training staff were named.

"At first I was scared ... The mafia hurts people," Antonella Sabatino, 23, a striker and native of Locri, told Reuters.

"We stayed united to show that we are here and no one can destroy us, not the mafia, and not someone who says we can't play anymore."

It is not uncommon for Italy's mafias to control soccer clubs in their territory as a way to build local consensus and even mask extortion payments as club sponsorships. What is unusual is that the mob would want to shut down a team that is doing well, raising doubts about who was sending the threats.   Continued...

 
Luis Fernando Lapuente, coach of Sporting Locri futsal team, arrives for the match against Lazio in Locri, Italy January 10, 2016. Picture taken January 10, 2016. REUTERS/Tony Gentile