ROME: Giancarlo Abete, president of the Italian federation, has snapped back at Prime Minister Mario Monti over the latter’s threat to shut down the professional game as a reaction to the latest matchfixing scandal writes KEIR RADNEDGE.

Monti, appointed to try to steer Italy out of economic crisis, is notoriously anti-sport; earlier this year he cancelled a Rome bid to host the Olympics in 2020.

His latest salvo was to state that professional football in the country could benefit from a break of “two to three years” after 19 people, among them Lazio captain Stefano Mauri, were arrested. Many others, including Antonio Conte, league title-winning coach of Juventus, are due to be interviewed.

Already defender Criscito has quit the Euro 2012 squad after being arreated by a police raid on the Italy training camp on Monday.

Abete said: “I understand and share Monti’s bitterness. It is the bitterness felt when values are lost. But in a delicate moment for a country, we need to avoid the risk of generalisation and demonising.

“I am in agreement that those that have done something wrong must pay, but to stop the leagues would mean to damage football. It would hinder those that are working in an honest way, which is the majority of our system as well as the loss of thousands of jobs. It’s not a solution.

“The match-fixing and betting scandal is a very ugly chapter in our football. Several people have been accused of illegal acts that should be sanctioned at all levels should they be found guilty.

“However, Italian football is made of 1.4million registered members, of over 700,000 games a year, of thousands of honest professionals and in order to respect them, we must avoid the risk of generalising.”

Italy captain Gianluigi Buffon has thrown his support behind Abete, insisting that the Prime Minister’s comments should not be put into action.

Buffon was a member of the Juventus side that was stripped of two league titles and relegated to Serie B in 2006 in a match-fixing probe that found the Turin giants guilty of influencing referees.

“Monti is a capable person,” said Buffon. “But I think the best answer has come from our football president Abete.”

#= = = =