Opel deal casts shadow over Collina

Pierluigi Collina, the world’s only soccer referee who qualifies as a true celebrity, is in danger of retiring on a sour note due to a controversial sponsorship deal. Collina, beloved and admired the world over for his impeccable judgment and decisive authority, often delivered with a wink and a smile, has reached the Italian league’s mandatory retirement age for referees of 45. At the beginning of this season, the Italian Football Federation gave him one more year, to age 46. But then the federation accused Collina of a conflict of interest after he accepted a sponsorship deal from Opel, which also sponsors Italian league club AC Milan. As it stands, Collina’s future is in doubt. He has tried to resign, but the head of Italian referees has refused the resignation. Yet despite almost universal public support, Collina, who refereed the 2002 Brazil/Germany World Cup final, sounds like he’s finished for good. “People must believe in a referee,” he says. “In the end, we have all lost out. I have slept less these last few nights than on the eve of the World Cup final.”

—Posted by Tim Nudd

Photo: Carlo Baroncini