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Italian radio station cheers on opposition

June 15, 2010

by Guy Dinmore, published June 15 2010

Millions of Italians were on the edge of their seats on Monday night as the World Cup holders struggled for a 1-1 draw against Paraguay in their first Group F match – except that is for Milan’s Radio Free Padania which cheered the South Americans’ opening goal. Since the radio station is the official broadcaster of the Northern League, a key partner in Silvio Berlusconi’s ruling coalition, there were understandable cries of treachery.

National support for the Azzuri is generally seen as an important unifying aspect among Italy’s diverse cultures – a process driven by Mussolini when Italy (who played one match in fascist black) won the 1934 and 1938 world cups – and once again sport has become enmeshed in politics. With Italy starting celebrations, shunned by the Northern League, marking 150 years of national unification, the debate is not academic.

Umberto Bossi, leader of the Northern League, once campaigned for an independent breakaway state of “Padania” north of the river Po, and his son Renzo, an elected councillor in Lombardy, caused uproar last month when he said he would not be cheering for the national side in South Africa.

Instead Renzo was rooting for the Padania team in Malta where they defeated Kurdistan in the finals of a tournament for “People’s Without Nations”, having earlier eliminated a team representing Sicily and the south.

Marcello Lippi, Italy’s coach, and captain Fabio Cannavaro were clearly irritated when asked about Radio Free Padania’s commentary at their post-match conference, and players have responded angrily to suggestions by Roberto Calderoli, a Northern League minister in the central government, that they are over-paid and need to contribute to debt-laden Italy’s austerity programme.

Mr Bossi senior was reported to have missed his team’s triumph in Malta as he was presiding over another competition – Miss Padania.

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