Udinese slams Dacia Arena corruption probe, seeking new home

Udinese has threatened to leave its Dacia Arena, and claims initial contact has already been made for a new home, after the Italian Serie A football club and Municipality of Udine were made the subject of a probe conducted by the National Anti-Corruption Authority (ANAC).

ANAC’s investigation concerns the procedure through which Udinese and the Municipality agreed in 2013 to grant the club ownership rights to the stadium, formerly known as Stadio Friuli, under a 99-year term.

Italian newspaper La Repubblica said the ANAC has determined that Dacia Arena cannot be considered a private structure owned by Udinese, or deviate from its function as a public building. The Municipality has also been criticised for failing to monitor the €250,000 (£215,000/$305,000) worth of maintenance work that Udinese is obliged to undertake on an annual basis.

The stadium’s naming rights sponsorship has been declared illegitimate by the Authority. In September, Romanian automotive manufacturer Dacia extended its contract as the main and stadium naming rights partner of Udinese.

Dacia has partnered with the club since 2009 and agreed to extend this association for a further three years, taking it through to 2023. Dacia added stadium naming rights to the shirt sponsorship package in January 2016, as the Stadio Friuli reopened following an extensive redevelopment.

The Municipality and Udinese have been ordered to make changes to address these issues, but the club has hit back in a strongly worded statement. Besides filing an appeal with the appropriate authorities, Udinese said it is willing to leave Dacia Arena and request the early termination of the contract with the Municipality as a result of the allegations made by ANAC.

Udinese said the decision follows the “specious and repeated criticism” the club has been subjected to in recent years. In addition, the club will request reimbursement of the sum of €48.53m, equivalent to the costs of demolishing and reconstructing the stadium.

At the same time, Udinese said it will seek to identify an alternative area for the construction of a new stadium, taking up options looked at previously. One of the sites being considered for the new facility is the comune of Pasian di Prato.

Udinese’s administrative director, Alberto Rigotto, said: “Udinese takes a precise and important position on these findings, which represent the classic straw that breaks the camel’s back. We are ready to recover old projects prior to the renovation of this stadium, which we are seriously considering abandoning by asking for the termination of the concession contract. 

“A contract that has been questioned by many – they did not want to acknowledge that this is one of the most beautiful facilities in Europe – so if we believe that the problem is Udinese, we are ready to ‘remove the trouble’. Udinese would not ask for any compensation or interest but only the return of those sums that have been advanced. We are talking about €48.5m.” 

Rigotto continued: “There are neighbouring municipalities that have always made sure to welcome us with open arms and we are willing to redo important investments in other locations. We are already in contact, as we were in other times, with other municipalities in order to be able to relocate – even quickly – the club elsewhere. 

“First contact has already taken place in Pasian di Prato, but in the Udine belt there are also other municipalities very close to the main road arteries. It is not a question of a joke but of in-depth reasoning already implemented in the past. At this point I think it is legitimate for us to imagine an alternative path.”

Image: Matteo.favi/CC BY-SA 4.0/Edited for size