PREVIEW - Rome derby fan boycott looms again
MILAN (Reuters) - AS Roma fans have said they will boycott Sunday's derby against Lazio for the third time in a row, once again taking the gloss of what used to be one of Europe's most passionate fixtures.
The hardcore supporters who occupy the Curva Sud (south curve) at Rome's Olympic stadium are protesting against security measures they say are destroying their fan culture.
On the other hand, Lazio fans, who also boycotted the previous derby in March, are expected to end their protest, with Italian media reporting that their part of the stadium had been sold out for Sunday's meeting.
In purely football terms, it is one of the most eagerly derbies in the last few seasons with only one point between them and Lazio looking to beat their neighbours for the first time since the 2013 Coppa Italia final -- a run of six games.
Roma are second in Serie A, four points behind leaders Juventus, while Lazio are a further point adrift in fourth after winning six and drawing three of their last nine matches.
Roma fans, however, are still angry after local authorities installed barriers which split the Curva Sud.
Fans say the barriers limit their view of the pitch and divide groups of supporters who used to sit together.
They also say they have been banned from waving flags and banners and even get fined for sitting in the wrong seats.
Leaders of the club's organised fan groups have instead invited supporters to watch the game on a giant screen at a sports centre.
Roma's chief executive Umberto Gandini said the club, which does not own the stadium, would again try to convince the authorities to compromise.
"All we can do is keep raising the issue with the authorities as to the need to consider the supporters peacefully returning to the stadium," he said.
"We're not having the experience we're used to at the Stadio Olimpico, whereas we have a huge turnout on the road. The club supports this request, which comes directly from the players who would like to play in a setting they deserve."
Giovanni Malago, head of the Italian Olympic Committee, admitted it was "not a good advertisement" for Rome's image to have large spaces in the stadium at its showpiece soccer match.
However, there was little sympathy from Carlo Tavecchio, head of the Italian Football Federation (FIGC).
"If the fans want to go to the stadium, they will go," he said. "They don't worry about whether there is a barrier there or not, the important thing is that we are reducing the acts of violence which had become intolerable.
"We've recorded a significant reduction in injuries relating to games, and I hope this trend will be maintained."
(Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by John O'Brien)