Now that the world cup is fading into memory, Europe's football fans are tuning in to the sport's new season. But not if they are Italian. Supporters of the likes of Juventus, AC Milan and Roma will have to wait a while longer to see their clubs kick a ball in anger. Their season, which should have started on Aug. 31, will not kick off until Sept. 15 because the clubs and television companies have failed to agree to new deals.
The delay was inevitable after state broadcaster Radio-televisione Italiana (RAI) offered the Serie A and B teams a paltry $44 million for its popular weekly highlights program, 40% less than last year, which the clubs rejected out of hand. Meanwhile eight of the smaller Serie A clubs and three Serie B sides have yet to strike pay-per-view TV deals.
Reality is biting in what once was Europe's richest football league. Having spent years paying players hugely inflated salaries from TV money, Italy's top 18 clubs last year declared an operating loss of $764 million. Already this year Serie A club Fiorentina has been declared bankrupt, after owner Vittorio Cecchi Gori failed to meet deadlines on debts of $22 million; Fiorentina was demoted to Serie C2. Even top-flight teams are struggling. Rome's Lazio, the 2000 champion, had bids for three new players annulled after admitting it couldn't pay even 30% of the transfer fees.
League president Adriano Galliani believes that the dispute may bring one positive result, the formation of the league's own television station. But if fans suffering from post-World Cup football overload are turned off by the wrangling, they might not even buy into that.
Open Contest, Closed Results
What a difference a year makes. Last September Australia's young gun Lleyton Hewitt comprehensively beat Pete Sampras at the U.S. Open to take his first Grand Slam title, and the Williams sisters faced each other across the net for the first time in a Grand Slam.
Now a Hewitt victory, the eclipse of Sampras and an all-Williams ladies final have become the norm. The two-week tournament that begins this week in New York is unlikely to repeat the bizarre results of Wimbledon, where the men's seeds toppled like ninepins in the first week, leaving Argentine David Nalbandian to face world No. 1 Hewitt in the final.
One match whose outcome is certain is Wimbledon champion Serena Williams' first-round contest against Corina Morariu. Only 16 months ago Morariu was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia. She returned to competitive tennis in July this year and reached the doubles quarter-final at the Canadian Open. After a year of illness, just being able to play means Morariu is already a winner.
Another Race, Another Win
The great thing about sport is unpredictability. Unless you have your shirt riding on it, there is no better fun than seeing the favorite beaten. Watching the sublime Tiger Woods struggling against the elements at Muirfield fed the need among the rest of us to know that nobody's perfect. That is why the Formula One season has become a bit of a bore. The Ferraris have been so strong that unless the two red cars take each other out on the first corner, no one else has a chance of catching them.
Having wrapped up his fifth drivers' championship in the French Grand Prix at the end of July, Michael Schumacher had a nice relaxed Sunday afternoon following teammate Rubens Barrichello round the Hungaroring circuit three races later to give the team the constructors' championship too, with points totaling more than those of the next three teams together. Ferrari is so far ahead of nearest competitors, Williams and McLaren, that even they are getting bored with it. Interviewed after the Hungarian race, Ferrari's technical director Ross Brawn said, "Unfortunately, it's a bit like playing chess against yourself at the moment." He added, "They'll come back and beat us again, I'm sure."
If the rest are to beat the Scuderia, they may have to wait until Schumacher retires. You could almost hear the cheers at Williams' and McLaren's headquarters last week when Schumacher's manager announced that his client may not continue in Formula One when his contract with Ferrari runs out in 2004. Until then, the racing looks as if it will stay boringly predictable.
O thou Golfinia, Goddess of these plains,
Great patroness of Goff, indulge my strains
So wrote Edinburgh legal clerk Thomas Mathison in 1743 in one of the first books to describe the game that began with players hitting pebbles across sand dunes and rabbit holes in the Kingdom of Fife, Scotland, sometime during the 15th century. Mathisonís 32-page work, The Goff, written in the satirical form of an epic poem, describes a match whose outcome is influenced by favoritism of the gods, chiefly the gameís patroness, Golfinia. A 1793 copy of The Goff was sold at auction in Edinburgh last week for $25,872.