Sat, Aug 23, 2003 - Page 18 News List

Serie B revolts over team change

REUTERS , ROME

Italian soccer descended into chaos on Thursday as almost all its second division teams announced they would boycott the new season to protest against a last-minute decision to add four more teams to Serie B.

The Italian soccer federation (FIGC) voted on Wednesday to expand the league just days before the start of the season, hoping the move would end a relegation battle that has raged all summer in the courts.

But 19 clubs of the Serie B's original 20-team line-up said they would not accept the decision.

"We do not intend to play our teams at any of our upcoming sporting commitments," the club presidents said in a joint state-ment, adding that they were "indignant and dismayed."

Soccer federation chief Franco Carraro later sent a letter to the 19 clubs saying they risked sanctions if they did not cooperate.

The FIGC, facing political pressure to sort out the relegation mess, ruled that a quartet of teams slated to play in lower divisions -- Catania, Genoa, Salernitana and Fiorentina -- would instead join the more lucrative second division.

The Serie B presidents fear the dilution of their league will diminish earnings while at the same time forcing their clubs to play eight more games in the season.

"I have spent all my money and have brought [Gianfranco] Zola over from England. How can I now guarantee cover for all these commitments?" said Massimo Cellino, president of Serie B team Cagliari.

The FIGC's most controversial decision was the promotion of Fiorentina, who have twice won the Serie A title. They went bankrupt last year and were demoted to the lowest division in professional soccer.

Last season Fiorentina won promotion from Serie C2, but will now leapfrog Serie C1 straight to Serie B. Catania, Genoa and Salernitana were all relegated from Serie B last season but have now been reprieved.

Soccer federation chief Franco Carraro said on Wednesday he wanted to see Fiorentina in the second division because the club had a big fan base and drew in large television audiences.

The original crisis was sparked by Sicilian club Catania, which turned to the courts in the close season to get its relegation to Serie C1 overturned because of a technicality tied to one of its games earlier this year.

The Sicilian court obliged, encouraging other clubs to leap on the legal bandwagon.

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