I’ve often said that politics comes into everything in Italy, although it must also be said that sport and politics are often frequent yet uneasy companions. This week’s cycle race Giro della Padania in (northern) Italy is proof of both.
The problem is that this particular race, as the name suggests, takes in the northern area of Padania only, and is obviously intended to promote the ficticious region’s existence. Lega Nord are behind it all of course, the party which believes that the not-entirely well defined area of “northern” Italy should separate from the rest (mostly south, some argue also central Italy). The race was however officially recognised by the national sports council Coni and Federciclismo, thus sparking protests, including a letter of appeal by Mr Paolo Ferrero, chairman of Rifondazione Comunista, to the President Giorgio Napolitano, demanding to have the race banned.
The 900km race is going ahead, hoever, with (almost) everyone’s apparent approval and will continue until Saturday with the finish line in Montecchio Maggiore, near Vicenza. There were heated exchanges and clashes in Mondovì, 70 km from the start of the race, as protesters from Rifondazione tried to stop the controversial giro. There were several minor injuries in scuffles, including a police officer who was pushed to the ground. Cyclists were heckled and some physically forced to dismount their bicycles. The 190 participants include Italian champions Giovanni Visconti and Ivan Basso as well as some foreign national teams.
Although the idea of Padania is seen by many as a joke, and certainly not a solution to many of Italy’s problems, economic or racial, the power of the Lega Nord is indisputable. As well as being a firm Berlusconi ally, they have even had the power to persuade the PM into important changes and decisions with the recent manovra economica, the emergency economy bill discussed throughout the summer. They also recently managed to at least partially achieve another goal of getting the Ministries out of Rome, establishing special ministerial offices in the north. They are also exceptionally efficient in organising party rallies and meetings, and the Giro della Padania is no exception.
Despite public disapproval, Rifondazione Comunista have said that their protests will continue in their determination to have the race stopped. “La Padiana non esiste“, as one banner so clearly put it.