Former ‘worker’ player, Tommasi overcomes extreme right and becomes mayor of Verona – 09/07/2022 – Sports

For the past 28 years, the northern Italian city of Verona has almost always been a bastion of the extreme right. There has been only one hiatus since 1994, when Paolo Zanotto, a centrist politician, served from 2002 to 2007.

This scenario lasted until the last election in the municipality, in June, when former player Damiano Tommasi, 48, ex-Roma and Italian national team, became the city’s mayor at the head of a center-left coalition.

He won 53.4% ​​of the vote against 46.6% for his opponent, Federico Sboarina, of the far-right Fratelli d’Italia party.

“I’m happy because, in addition to the result, we managed to talk about politics without necessarily attacking the opponent, without insulting anyone,” Tommasi declared at his inauguration.

Talking about politics is nothing new for him despite having never held public office before. Even as a player, he didn’t hesitate to address social issues, as well as accumulating a number of attitudes that helped him to form as a leader.

Born in Negrar, a city of 17,000 located in the province of Verona, he began his career as an athlete in the 1990s at Hellas Verona, Chievo’s great rival. The two clubs in the city have openly neo-fascist organized supporters, with several episodes of racism accumulating.

While playing in his homeland, he was marked, in 1993, for becoming the first professional football player in Italian history to exercise his right to the so-called “conscientious objection to mandatory military service”. He refused the Army and worked for Catholic organizations. “I didn’t want to serve the country with a rifle in my hand.”

He acted alongside Monsignor Lorenzo Milani, Italy’s most famous “father of peace”, whom he referred to at various times in his campaign for the mayoralty of Verona. He was inspired by Milani who, years later, built alongside his wife the “Don Milani Bilingual School”, teaching Italian and English.

After five years in his native land, he signed in 1996 with Roma, where he built a reputation as a working-class player not only for his performances as a midfielder. His attitudes off the field contributed to the construction of the character.

He stayed at the club from 1996 to 2006. In that period, he became champion of the “Serie A” alongside Francesco Totti and reached the national team, which he defended at the 2002 World Cup, in South Korea and Japan.

In 2004, he earned the nickname “Sincere Soul” for refusing to receive a high salary during a period when he would be out of action because of an injury.

Knowing that he would be away from the pitch for a long time, he demanded in his contract renewal that, while he recovered, he would receive a salary of 1,500 euros a month, equivalent to the amount paid to the base players at the time.

The Vatican’s L’Osservatore Romano newspaper praised his attitude at the time: “Damiano always envisioned the famous footballer as someone responsible for setting an example for youth, and he shaped his behavior with that in mind.”

Before hanging up his boots, he had brief spells at Levante, Spain, and Queens Park Rangers, England. He even became the first Italian player to play in China, for Tianjin Teda, in 2009.

In 2011, Tommasi assumed the presidency of the AIC, a kind of union of soccer players in Italy. He was at the forefront of a strike that delayed the start of Serie A as players and clubs negotiated a new collective bargaining agreement. With a conciliatory profile, he remained in office until 2020, when he began to dedicate himself to the campaign for mayor.

During the electoral race, the former player was defined by the Italian press as an eternal midfielder, not being considered right or left. Also noteworthy was the fact that he had not held any rally. Without stepping up on podiums, he preferred walking around the neighborhoods and talking to citizens in a subdued tone.

“We have approached the concerns of the citizens of Verona and we will continue to do so,” he said, already in possession.

The leader of the Democratic Party of Italy, Enrico Letta, highlighted the importance of the victory: “This result strengthens us for the future, in the construction of a center-left bloc that will also be victorious at the national level, in next year’s political elections” .

Voting in 65 cities, including 13 provincial and regional capitals, was an important test for the country’s broad spectrum of political groups ahead of parliamentary elections in 2023, when the prevailing party will decide who will replace Mario Draghi as Italian prime minister.

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