Genoa has lessons for World Cup 2018 organisers on how hooligans can be made to come clean

For two decades, supporters of Sampdoria and Genoa have joined forces to clean stadium in scheme city officials credit with helping to end violence

FILE - In this photo taken on Friday, Dec. 1, 2017, Russian soccer fans of Spartak team burn flares during a Russian Premier League Championship soccer match between Arsenal Tula and Spartak Moscow in Tula, about 200 kilometers (125 miles) south of Moscow, Friday, Dec. 1, 2017. So-called "ultras" focus on coordinated chants, lighting flares and staging elaborate displays at games, but can defend themselves if needed. The hardcore fighters mostly stick to pre-arranged brawls in forests because of tight stadium surveillance. Some fighters are drifting away from football and turning to organized mixed martial arts events which offer a chance to make money from their hobby. (AP Photo/Denis Tyrin, file).

Amid concerns over violence at the World Cup in Russia, one Italian city claims to have found the answer to football hooliganism - make rowdy fans swap brass knuckles for brooms.

For more than two decades, supporters of Genoa's two rival teams - Sampdoria and Genoa - have joined forces to clean their stadium in a scheme city officials credit with helping to end years of violence.

"[The] heated confrontations we had for a period of time ... abated significantly," Stefano Anzalone, councillor for sport in the city, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

After street violence led to dozens of injuries and arrests in Genoa, in the early 1990s authorities offered hard-core fans known as "ultras" the chance to launch a company to tackle the problem.

Genova Insieme, a social enterprise, was officially launched in 1992, tasked with employing rival hooligans to clean the Luigi Ferraris stadium where both Genoa and Sampdoria play.

Social enterprises are businesses with a mission to benefit society or the environment.

FILE - In this photo taken on Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2015, CSKA Moscow's fans, most of them without their shirts on, cheer for their team in freezing temperatures, during the Champions League Group B soccer match between CSKA Moscow and Manchester United at the Arena Khimki stadium in Moscow, Russia. Most top Russian clubs now have so-called "curators" from the security services "who work with the fan organizations" and have warned them off disorder, Oleg Semyonov, formerly a leader of the Spartak Moscow fan scene, said. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin, file).

In Italy the number of social cooperatives, a type of social enterprise that get tax cuts in return for providing social services, rose 43 per cent to more than 16,000 between 2011 and 2015, according to the national statistics bureau ISTAT.

Toiling shoulder by shoulder helped to ease tensions and gave disadvantaged youths a fresh start, said Roberto Scotto, the 58-year-old Genoa fan who has run the company since 1994.

"Problems arise when young people hang out with little to do. Those who have a job and something to lose don't get into trouble," Scotto said. "None of those who worked with us has since had any stadium-related issue."

Scotto said the model could help other countries tackle football hooliganism, which is a concern for the organisers of the World Cup that kicks off on June 14.

Some media have predicted a possible repeat of the brawls between Russian and English fans at the 2016 European championship in France although Russia has vowed to crack down on crowd unrest.

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On Wednesday, British authorities said they blocked more than 1,200 people with a history of football-related disorders from travelling to the World Cup.

Europe's football governing body, Uefa, has said it welcomed initiatives "in the framework of peer control" that contributed to a friendly atmosphere in and around stadiums.

Scotto, however, said policing remains the strongest deterrent against violence at large events like the World Cup, where visiting fans are loosely organised and have no ties to the local community.

He said Genova Insieme now has about 100 staff, up from a dozen when it started, and still draws staff from the grandstands but also provides job opportunities to former convicts and drug and alcohol addicts.

He said the rivalry within the company only heats up when the Genoa and Sampdoria are to play each other.

"That week we can't speak to one another, but otherwise we have a great relationship," Scotto said.

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