Pretty quickly, Paolo Dal Pino realized that the illustrious list of names on his glittering résumé, the long years spent in the boardrooms of some of Italy’s corporate behemoths, the experience that had gotten him the job — none of it was fitting preparation for running his country’s top soccer league.
Serie A, after all, did not function like the industrial giant Pirelli or the telecom provider Wind or the communications company Telit, the companies where Dal Pino had spent his career before, in January, agreeing to take charge of Italy’s top division. The league did not have a defined hierarchy or a sense of purpose. What it had, instead, was 20 presidents of 20 teams, bickering among themselves.
It was a schoolyard and a debating chamber, fraught by internal politics and vulnerable to internecine strife. One faction, including many of the league’s makeweights, gathered around Claudio Lotito, president of Lazio. Others clustered around Juventus, its powerhouse. The growing number of American owners — at Roma and A.C. Milan and Fiorentina — had a different set of ideas again.
The chances of the league’s conjuring a unified response to the coronavirus crisis, then — picking a way through the enforced hiatus, finding a route back to the field, one that satisfied all of the competing agendas — should have been remote. It might have been expected to break the league for good.
Instead, Dal Pino feels the pandemic might have healed it.
“There is more unity than before,” he said. His explanation is, for the president of a soccer competition, a slightly unexpected one: Serie A could work together precisely because there were no games. The absence of action on the field, Dal Pino said, “cleared the table of many issues.”
Without the squabbles that would invariably break out after a weekend’s games — fingers pointed at referees, opponents smeared, rivals scorned, all of it played out in Italy’s ravenous sports media — Serie A’s executives could, at last, find harmony.
“Not having games, not having discussions where they were criticizing the referees or the players, not having the controversies, removed a lot of tension,” he said. “Covid-19 changed a lot of things. It changed the way people interacted.” Andrea Agnelli, the Juventus president, gives at least some of the credit for that to Dal Pino himself: His “diplomacy,” Agnelli said, helped to keep the clubs on board.
The test for Dal Pino is ensuring that sense of togetherness — fostered in the panic of the shutdown — can hold now that Serie A, like most of Europe’s major leagues, has returned to the field. The pandemic was an existential threat; it is far from the only challenge the league has to face.
Dal Pino arrived in his role in January, the fourth man to take up the post of Serie A president in four years. If, from the outside, the job has the air of a sinecure — just someone to hand out the medals at the end of the season, to smile and to shake hands — and an uncertain, short-lived one at that, he wanted to interpret it slightly differently.
In his first official communiqué after taking the role, he urged the owners of the league’s clubs to “come together” to restore Serie A to the position it held in the 1990s, as “the most beautiful league in the world.”
Quite how to do that, of course, has been vexing Italian soccer ever since its demise began in the early 2000s. The sette sorelle, the fabled Seven Sisters clubs that once made Serie A the most glamorous league in Europe, no longer attract the finest players on the planet. The league’s broadcast revenues pale in comparison to those in England and Germany. Its stadiums are largely crumbling, antiquated.
Dal Pino’s arrival, too, hardly came at a propitious moment. A string of racist incidents in stadiums — as well as an ill-conceived anti-racism campaign late last year — had left Serie A’s reputation in tatters. The league seemed unable, or perhaps even unwilling, to combat the problem. Certain clubs seemed to be in thrall to their far-right ultras.
The issue had become so endemic that a number of black players had refused moves to Italy because they feared being racially abused. After Romelu Lukaku, the Inter Milan striker, was abused at a game, a former teammate of his at Chelsea, Demba Ba, urged black players to leave Serie A.
There were economic issues, too. Those clubs seeking to build new stadiums had invariably found that doing so involved diving into a Kafkaesque bureaucracy. Qatar-based beIN Sports, one of the league’s most important rights holders, had been infuriated by the decision to stage the country’s Super Cup in Saudi Arabia, and was threatening to end its broadcast contract. Discussions over plans to create a dedicated Serie A television channel, with the Spanish network Mediapro, had stalled.
Updated June 24, 2020
Is it harder to exercise while wearing a mask?
A commentary published this month on the website of the British Journal of Sports Medicine points out that covering your face during exercise “comes with issues of potential breathing restriction and discomfort” and requires “balancing benefits versus possible adverse events.” Masks do alter exercise, says Cedric X. Bryant, the president and chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise, a nonprofit organization that funds exercise research and certifies fitness professionals. “In my personal experience,” he says, “heart rates are higher at the same relative intensity when you wear a mask.” Some people also could experience lightheadedness during familiar workouts while masked, says Len Kravitz, a professor of exercise science at the University of New Mexico.
I’ve heard about a treatment called dexamethasone. Does it work?
The steroid, dexamethasone, is the first treatment shown to reduce mortality in severely ill patients, according to scientists in Britain. The drug appears to reduce inflammation caused by the immune system, protecting the tissues. In the study, dexamethasone reduced deaths of patients on ventilators by one-third, and deaths of patients on oxygen by one-fifth.
What is pandemic paid leave?
The coronavirus emergency relief package gives many American workers paid leave if they need to take time off because of the virus. It gives qualified workers two weeks of paid sick leave if they are ill, quarantined or seeking diagnosis or preventive care for coronavirus, or if they are caring for sick family members. It gives 12 weeks of paid leave to people caring for children whose schools are closed or whose child care provider is unavailable because of the coronavirus. It is the first time the United States has had widespread federally mandated paid leave, and includes people who don’t typically get such benefits, like part-time and gig economy workers. But the measure excludes at least half of private-sector workers, including those at the country’s largest employers, and gives small employers significant leeway to deny leave.
Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?
So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.
What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?
Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.
How does blood type influence coronavirus?
A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.
How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?
The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.
What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.
How can I protect myself while flying?
If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)
What should I do if I feel sick?
If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.
Yet Dal Pino could see signs of promise. He pinpointed the arrivals of Lukaku and Cristiano Ronaldo as proof that Italian clubs could still attract elite talent, and highlighted that, before the pandemic, Italian soccer was breaking its attendance records, suggesting that fans still had a “hunger” to see games. The Coppa Italia final, staged before the return of Serie A after the hiatus, bore that out, attracting 10.2 million viewers.
But Serie A still seemed a long way from what it once was. The pandemic had dealt a crippling blow, “devastating the industry,” as Dal Pino put it, not just in terms of ticket sales but “all activities related to games, like merchandising and sponsorships.”
“Abandoning the season would have severely impacted the value of both the clubs and the players,” he said.
That has been staved off — for now — of course. Dal Pino is even hopeful that some fans may start to return to Italian stadiums as soon as July. “We need to be prudent and patient, but we are confident that if the health situation continues to improve, the gradual return of fans into the stadiums will be a reality, perhaps partially next month,” he said.
His vision, though, does not stop at a return to normal, not as it was before. His plan, instead, focuses on change. “Any crisis situation represents an opportunity to improve ourselves by all means,” Dal Pino said. “There are opportunities to be seized.”
They encompass a whole range of ideas, from “reducing bureaucracy” for clubs hoping to build new stadiums to, potentially, selling a stake in the league to a private equity firm — CVC Capital Partners and Bain Capital are reported to have made offers, though Dal Pino refused to comment — and changing the way Serie A sells its television rights.
The spat with beIN, for example, has resulted in Serie A’s being blacked out in dozens of countries, a situation that has convinced many in Italian soccer that the league needs to have final control over its broadcast agreements, as opposed to selling them through a third party, as is currently the case. Dal Pino is intrigued by a streaming platform, and he acknowledged the need to “control our long-term destiny.” For Serie A, he said, “digital disruption” might be a good thing.
If any of it is to come to fruition, though, if Dal Pino is to see his vision for Italian soccer grow into something more real, he will need the presidents of his 20 teams — the clutter of cats that it is his job to herd — to remember that they can work together, to keep hold of the harmony they could find in silence, even now that the noise has started again.