Racism in Italian football remains prominent

By Jerome Butcher
Inter Milan striker, Mario Balotelli

Inter Milan striker, Mario Balotelli

The recent events at the Serie A game between Inter and Juventus saw a renewed call for a crackdown on the ever-present racism in football. Some Juve fans were guilty of racially abusing 18-year-old Inter Milan striker Mario Balotelli who scored Inter’s goal in the 1-1 draw at the Stadio Olimpico in Turin.

Balotelli ensured Inter remained out of touching distance of their rivals at the top of the table and even closer to winning their 17th scudetto. The eighteen year old, born in Palermo, Sicily but with Ghanaian relatives joins a long list of footballers of African-origin to be on the receiving end of racist chants.

This latest embarrassing incident proved just how much Serie A is still moving in the wrong direction. both on and off the pitch. Racism appears to be firmly embedded in Italy’s calcio.

The punishment issued by the Italian football federation (FIGC) is simply not enough to deter these racist fans and does not go far enough to stamp out racism entirely from the Italian game.

Juve have been ordered to play their next home game behind closed doors – hardly a massive punishment given that their next home game is against second from bottom Lecce. Besides, very few Lecce fans could be expected to travel the 700+ miles from Puglia to Turin.

This is not the first time Juventus fans have been criticised for their behaviour. Last year Juve were fined after some of their fans called Ibrahimovic a “foul Gypsy”.

The problem seems to stem from outside the football stadiums. Italy, being such a divided country, experiences racial and territorial discrimination on a regular basis. Napoli fans are often abused and “Neapolitan, dirty African, you are the shame of all Italy” is one of the most popular football chants sung by many football fans.

Michel Platini, UEFA President and a former Juve player, has led by example by offering further punishments and sanctions. He has suggested that should there be any racist chanting games could be stopped during play or even abandoned entirely. “We will call for play to be stopped for 10 minutes when these things happen, and for announcements to be made in the stadium,” Platini said. “If it continues, then the match will be stopped.”

But promises like these have been made in the past and still, even in 2009, players are subjected to mindless abuse. The equivalent to England’s ‘Kick it Out’ campaign which shares the same name: ‘Dai un calcio al razzismo’ introduced a few years ago seems to have made very few inroads. It is slowly becoming more and more well known. Equally, the Italian part of the FARE network (Football Against Racism in Europe) only makes its voice heard intermittently.

Although the Italian football federation already has rules that stipulate any game can be suspended should the referee find any evidence of racist slogans or banners within the stadium but this very rarely is put into practice.

Much more needs to be done. People, spectators and children from all over the world watch Serie A games on television. What must these people think and what does it say about Italian society? I often think, how can this can be allowed to continue especially in a Western country in the twenty-first century?

The responsibility falls largely to the individual clubs but clearly the message is not getting through. The federation’s president Giancarlo Abete has pledged to eradicate this ‘illness’ from Italian football but he surely cannot achieve this alone. The Eradication of racism is a must if Italy want any chance of hosting Euro 2016.

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