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July 26, 2006 3:00 am

Penalties on Italian clubs reduced

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Juventus and three other Italian football clubs face reduced sanctions for match fixing after an appeals panel agreed to lighten penalties handed down by a sports tribunal on July 14.

The appeals board maintained Juventus's relegation to Serie B but reduced its points deduction to 17, compared with the original 30. This will give Juventus a better chance of using the coming season to climb back into the premier league. The club was also stripped of its league titles for the past two seasons and will pay a €120,000 fine.

Lazio and Fiorentina benefited significantly as the panel overturned their demotion to Serie B. Instead the two clubs will stay in the premier league and start the season with a deduction of 11 and 19 points, respectively.

AC Milan, which had not be relegated in the earlier decision, will be docked just eight points, rather than the original 15.

Leandro Cantamessa, AC Milan's lawyer, said: "This is not a victory but it is a bit better than before. But the question of why we weren't absolved will keep turning up like half-digested onions."

The panel did not explain the reasons for its decision to reduce the sentences. More details are to be disclosed by August 10.

Many football insiders expected the appeals board to be more lenient. But Stefano Palazzi, the Italian football federation's prosecutor, had hoped the panel would support his call to impose tougher sanctions, including relegation of Juventus to Serie C and AC Milan to Serie B.

The entire trial and appeals process took less than four weeks as officials scrambled to avoid delaying the start of the season on August 27. But executives at Juventus and Fiorentina immediately reacted to the decision by promising to contest the sports tribunal's legitimacy in a higher sports justice court and possibly an administrative court, which could possibly delay the season's kick-off.

Juventus president Giovanni Cobolli Gigli said he was "dumbfounded by the enormous imbalance in the sentences" imposed on his club versus the other three that remained in Serie A. He said Juventus would appeal against the decision immediately.

Diego della Valle, owner of both Fiorentina and Tod's, the fashion footwear maker, said he would use every legal means to overturn the sentences doled out against his club as well as him and his brother. Mr della Valle faces a fine of €55,000 as well as a 45-month ban from the football business.

Tuesday's decision by the sports justice panel does not affect the criminal investigations into sports fraud, illegal betting and false book-keeping being conducted by prosecutors in several Italian cities.

Juventus players will have to decide whether to follow their team into Serie B or be wooed by a premier league team. Juventus have already lost Fabio Cannavaro, who captained the Italian national team to its recent World Cup victory, and Brazilian midfielder Emerson to Real Madrid.

Separately, Uefa gave the Italian football federation an extra day to file the names of the Italian clubs eligible to play in next season's European club championships.

*OLYMPICS A strict timetable for building the venues for the London 2012 Olympics was unveiled on Tuesday, with a pledge to complete all the sporting sites a year before the games to allow them to be fully tested, writes Bob Sherwood.

Olympic planners also launched the procurement process to build the showcase 80,000-seat stadium for the games at the Olympic Park in east London.

The new timetable for delivering the venues means that some, such as the aquatic centre, will be built much later than planned in the bid document. But David Higgins, chief executive of the Olympic Delivery Authority, insisted it made no sense to complete some venues years early so that they sat vacant for a long time before the games, incurring maintenance costs.

Under the timetable, the authority has two years to plan, four years to build the venues and one year to test them.

Mr Higgins said: "I realise it is a bold move setting out indicative target dates that we can be measured against, but it is important that we are transparent and accountable."

The ODA is seeking expressions of interest for construction of the stadium, estimated to cost £280m in the 2004 bid document, though that is expected to rise.

According to the brief released on Tuesday, the stadium for the track and field events, as well as the opening and closing ceremonies, must seat 80,000 for the games, but will be cut to 25,000 seats afterwards.

The planners are seeking designs for a "living stadium" that will have athletics at its heart but will also be suitable for other sporting events and rock concerts in the future.

*CRICKET England paceman Liam Plunkett will miss the second and third Tests against Pakistan after suffering a side strain. Plunkett sustained the injury playing for his county side Durham against West Indies A last week.

He joins long-term absentees Andrew Flintoff (ankle), Michael Vaughan (knee), Simon Jones (knee) and Ashley Giles (hip) on the injury list.

The second Test starts at Old Trafford on Thursday. Plunkett's place will be taken by Sajid Mahmood or Jon Lewis.

Meanwhile, former winners Leicestershire and Surrey have been kept apart in the semi-finals of the Twenty20 Cup. The Foxes will face Essex Eagles while the Brown Caps will take on Nottinghamshire Outlaws on finals day at Trent Bridge on August 12.

Quinn, 39, was a popular forward at the club in the last six years of his career and is expected to take over as chairman before the start of the new season.

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