Aside not having the world’s best players anymore, racism is probably one of the other reasons Italian football has lost its glamour and appeal. The latest incident in the Serie A game between SS Lazio and Napoli at the Stadio Olimpico is a good case study.
The match was temporarily halted for about three minutes when the Lazio fans started hurling racial abuses at Napoli defender, Kalidou Koulibaly. The referee called for a halt to the game after 68 minutes as the jeering increased whenever the Senegalese defender went close to the ball.
It was as stupid as it was senseless, seeing that the idiotic Lazio fans also had Ogenyi Onazi and Keita Balde on their team – both black players – on the pitch at the time of the incident. The simple question is, to what end?
Lazio manager Stefano Pioli sought to douse the tension after the game and claimed the chanting didn’t mean much when he said: “I would not have stopped the match as that only lends importance to a minority of fans. If I had been the referee I would not have stopped it. We also have players of colour and they are treated well.”
Yes, Lazio did have players of colour on their team like I mentioned, yet Pioli’s claim that the decision to halt the game ‘only lends importance to a minority of fans’, is where part of the problem lies. Does it really matter the number of fans involved in such shameful act? The bottom-line is someone has been racially abused, which should call for a broader spectrum of discussion on the issue of racial discrimination in football.
The point is, these racist fans don’t always care for whether the player is on their team or not, the intention is always to claim racial superiority, which overtime has been proven to be a mere fallacy.
A classic example happened on the 21st of May, 2014. The Italian senior national team was training ahead of the World Cup which was to begin the following month. It was an open training session, so fans were allowed in to watch their stars train, but it turned into an orgy of racially motivated invectives being poured on Mario Balotelli, who for all intents and purposes, was a member of the Italy squad.
Some of the fans were heard screaming: ‘F***ing N****’, obviously aimed at the striker. What then do we call that? The police had to be called in to disperse the crowd. Balotelli’s Italy teammate Ciro Immobile said after the incident: “In 2014, we shouldn’t need to be talking about racism again.
“At the moment, there is a problem with chants about black people. We know it is a very bad thing,” he said in admission to the high level of racism in Italian football.
A lack of investment from sponsors has been attributed as one of the reasons the Serie A lost its edge and glamour to the Premier League, La Liga and Bundesliga, but how would you expect otherwise if fans are going to constantly racially discriminate against the players. The Serie A is struggling and the top clubs; AC Milan, Inter and Juventus can no longer afford to financially compete with their peers from England, Spain and Germany. They have even lost their fourth UEFA Champions League slot to the Bundesliga.
The issue calls for some serious discussion and the Italian Football Federation, the FIGC, must take decisive steps towards making racial abuses disappear from the Stadiums.
It is a cankerworm that has eaten deep into the Italian football fabric and continues to eat until decisive steps are taken. The shameful act is not even only restricted to Serie A or professional football in Italy, it unfortunately cuts across board.
In April of last year, during a youth game in Forte dei Marmi, a coastal town in Italy’s Tuscany, an 11-year old boy was in tears after his AC Milan side had thrashed PSG 4-0 in a youth tournament. At first, it seemed like the boy was crying because he couldn’t contain his excitement at his team’s progress to the next round of the tournament, but it turned out he was crying because the parents of the white kids at the game had been hurling racial insults at him and his four black teammates.
It was a sorry sight, and that was just one of the many racial cases that happen across Italian football every week. If they must know, there is a reason why the Serie A has fallen behind the Premier League, Bundesliga and La Liga. The FIGC must take a stand, and now.
But it is a long way to go when you consider that Italy’s first ever black cabinet minister, Cecile Kyenge, is regularly faced with racial abuses from colleagues. She has been compared with an orangutan by a national politician and had bananas thrown at her.
If the people that should make laws to criminalize racial discrimination are racists themselves, what hope is left, then?