Franco Carraro, the 65-year-old president of the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) and a member of the International Olympic Committee, is one of Italy’s most experienced sports administrators. A former world skiing champion, he became president of Milan at just 27 and has also served as Minister for Tourism and as Mayor of Rome. He was president of the Italian Football League from February 1997 until he took up his post with the FIGC in December 2001.

World Soccer: Is Italian football in economic crisis?
Franco Carraro:Football in Italy is a sporting activity with huge social and economic implications. For that reason, it is currently going through all the same difficulties and problems of the country at large, of the Italian economy.

Yet I would like to make a few points. Italian football organises 710,000 professional and amateur games per annum. These games all begin punctually and in 99.9 per cent of cases all end punctually. Football, despite all its problems, is still the best organised, most punctual activity there is in Italy.

It is true, though, that Italian football has its problems. The clubs spend far too much, but it is worth pointing out that the 132 clubs of Serie A, B, C1 and C2 this year had to come up with €725million [£500m] before they could enrol in this season’s leagues. The clubs came up with that money, but what the federation cannot do is dictate to the clubs how they spend their money, because they are commercial entities protected by law.

It is also true that many clubs have substantial debts with the Inland Revenue. This is partly because the law changed in 2000 with regard to social security payments. Previously, it had been a felony not to pay an employee’s IRPEF [social security], but that felony was abrogated by the 2000 law. Football clubs, like many other entities, clearly stopped paying. That said, in 2003 the total debt of all the clubs to the Inland Revenue was €500m [£345m]; by 2004 it had sunk to €200m [£138m].

What is more, clubs that want to enrol for next season’s championship will have to have their books in order by March 31, not only with regard to the payment of players’ wages but also with regard to taxes and social security payments. Clubs that are still in debt have to show that they are making regular payments to the Inland Revenue.

Italy has just announced its candidature to host the Euro 2012 finals. What are the chances of winning the rights?
It is important to remember that we have full government backing for our candidature. Also, our basic infrastructure is good – I mean, we’ve got plenty of great cities, with good hotels, good airports and nearly all of them easy to get to by train
or car. Our biggest problem concerns our stadia, which need radical modernisation.

How will you finance the stadia renovation and rebuilding?
We’ve just had a parliamentary inquiry that came to the unanimous conclusion that football stadia in Italy must either become the property of the clubs or be rented out to them on a very long lease. Our idea for 2012 is not for the state to build or rebuild the stadia but rather that the stadia be leased to the clubs, who would oversee the reconstruction and renovation, helped by low or zero-interest loans from the state.

Using this system, we ought to be able to eliminate ill-advised renovations that have no long-term value, because if the club is paying for the reconstruction itself, it won’t build a 70,000-seater stadium when it knows only too well that what it needs is a 30,000-seater. On the other hand, when a reconstruction project like this is up for a public works contract, then there are always all sorts of pressures to make the project bigger and bigger.

Can you expand on why you think it so important to improve stadia?
Look at it this way. A cinema enthusiast always prefers to see a film in the cinema rather than on TV. Yet, if every time he goes to the cinema he finds the place dirty, full of cigarette butts, with no decent toilet facilities and worst of all with a dirty screen that makes it difficult to see the film, then he’ll decide to stay at home.

There are stadia in Italy that are simply less than decent, where it’s difficult to even find the toilets, where from certain parts of the stand you have difficulty seeing the match. My view is that if we create decent stadia – and I’m not talking about ultra-luxurious stadia, because football is a game of the people and that’s the way it should remain – then many things will improve. There has to be a plus factor about going to a stadium.

You suggested recently that FIFA and UEFA should consider introducing technological innovations to help referees.
As far as I’m concerned, all forms of technological innovation that can help the referee are welcome. Why not some sort of beep when a player goes offside? Given the number of people who watch football, given the cost of TV rights, it seems absurd not to take on board TV evidence, to treat the TV footage as some sort of ‘virtual’ evidence. The fact is that often what the TV footage shows is true, and it is the referee’s decision that was ‘virtual’.

A sport as important as football has an obligation to public opinion to check out whether the current situation is as good as it can be or whether it should have recourse to technology. But it would be unthinkable that a game could last three hours because there was a debate every three minutes about a referee’s decision.

*This is an excerpt from an interview with Franco Carraro. The full interview appeared in the March 2005 issue of World Soccer. To subscribe to the magazine, click here