The never ending story of the football stadium of Cagliari Calcio

Published 12 August 2013

A new exciting football season is about to start, but one of the most delicate issues within the Italian football is still to be solved. According to a press release of Lega Calcio Serie A (as official organizer of the league), Cagliari Calcio (a Serie A club and the largest club in Sardinia) has provisionally appointed the stadium of Trieste as the football stadium for all its home games of the upcoming season, a city more than 800 km far from Cagliari. How is this possible?

The story began last year in 2012, when the President of Cagliari decided to move from the former stadium of Sant'Elia to Is Arena (literally meaning "sand" in the local dialect), due to some issues on public safety: in fact, the Provincial Vigilance Commission had declared that the overall capacity of the audience had to be significantly reduced, since a part of the stadium was totally decrepit.
Of course at that time, he wouldn’t have known that taking such a decision would leave him stuck in the "sand" of the Italian bureaucracy.

The original structure of Is Arena was renewed and enlarged in order to obtain the clearance of Lega Calcio. The final opening was planned for October-November 2012, but after several delays the original timing was lengthened and for the first match of the season (Cagliari - Atalanta, on 2 September 2012) the stadium wasn't ready. Therefore, since the structure only dealt with some minimum standard requirements, Lega Calcio Serie A allowed the match to be played behind closed doors. In fact, the main stand was still under construction and there were no locker rooms nor press box available: as a consequence, the players had to use the locker room of the nearby local sports hall.   

This represented the beginning of a long and exhausting "tug of war" between the club and the local authorities in order to obtain the opening of all the stands, while the works were progressing step by step.

On 22 September 2012, with an announcement published on the official website of the club, the President of Cagliari invited the supporters holding a ticket to go to the stadium for the match Cagliari - Roma, notwithstanding the local Prefect had imposed the closed doors due to the continuing non-compliance of the structure with public safety standards.

Such communications generated a big debate at the national level and, initially, the match was only postponed to a later date, while, in the end, the sports judge of Serie A sanctioned the club with a forfeit defeat (0-3), for breach of article 12.2 of the Federal Sports Justice Code (stating that any club must carefully comply with all decisions of the authorities on public safety).

The following matches were played with a partial opening of the stands and only on the occasion of the match Cagliari - Napoli, on 26 November 2012, the stadium was entirely opened, hosting more than 16.000 spectators.

Given the above, the choice of Is Arena was found to be wrong, since it was declared unusable several times by the authorities during the season: on 14 February 2013, the President himself and the mayor of Quartu Sant'Elena (the municipality near Cagliari where Is Arena had been built exactly) were arrested on charges of attempted embezzlement and fraudulent misrepresentation in relation of such works (the house arrest of the President was dismissed only on 14 May 2013).

On 25 February 2013, since the stadium couldn't receive further derogations, the administrative authorities finally declared its inaccessibility for the supporters (the main unresolved issue was the absence of a regular pre-filtering area for visiting fans in front of the guest stand).

Consequently, the following three matches were played behind closed doors and the remaining six were played in Trieste.

Then, on 25 June 2013, the President of the club, in agreement with the local authorities and Lega Calcio Serie A, declared to have definitely abandoned the idea of playing at Is Arena and his desire to come back to Sant'Elia for the next season (2013/14) after the necessary adjustment works.

At this stage, being that the club and the municipality of Cagliari are working on a convention to be signed as soon as possible in order to start such works, the President took the aforementioned decision of provisionally appointing Trieste for the home matches.

Should such appointment become effective and final, it would certainly represent a defeat not only for the club of Sardinia and its supporters, but also for Italian sport.

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