When The Homeland Is Worth More Than Racism

Four Italian athletes gave an important lesson of patriotism and belonging

The 2018 Mediterrean Games, the four-year multi-sport event recently held in Spain, left Italy two certainties: the primacy in this competition of our athlets who, as in every other edition, won more medals than other countries (156 medals, including 56 golds, only this summer) and the deplorable election climate, still reigning even with the new government formed for a while.

It is the case that four Italian women athletes won the 4 x 400 meters relay, same as the Italian men’s team led by the speedster Filippo Tortu, who won the 4 x 100 meters relay. However, there was just a little mention about this victory in the press. Indeed, instead of celebrating their great sporting achievement, the media focus was on the colour of their skin. This conveyed once again the disturbing message that, for some political parties and self-styled sages, in 2018 racism should be worth more than a sacred flag.

Luckly for Italy, this is not the case. Indeed, the four athletes gave an important lesson of patriotism and belonging, showing that the love of homeland is not linked to skin color and religion, but rather to an inner feeling of participation, also through sports, shared common values and, above all, respect for the rules and the state authority.

Maria Benedicta Chigbolu, Ayomide Folorunso, Raphaela Lukudo and Libania Grenot are Italian, and this is not reflected by the origins of their parents or the propaganda use of their image, but simply by the law.

Maria Benedicta Chigbolu is Roman, grew up in the northwestern suburbs of the city and was recruited to the Italian army sports section. Her Nigerian grandfather took part to the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games, leading Nigeria to the high jump final. Holding a degree in Education Sciences, she also worked as model. Her interview after the gold medal was the best answer to the seedy advertising about their skin color: “I am Italian, I have never felt different. I can’t be the answer to the current political climate. The athletes don’t see the difference, we never even noticed that we were four black girls. It should not raise all this clamour in 2018.

Ayomide Folorunso was born in Nigeria, but her parents moved to Italy in 2004, when she was just eight years old. Grown up in the town of Fidenza, Emilia-Romagna, she obtained the Italian citizenship, after the statuatory ten years. In 1995, she signed up for the Italian police sports section, known as Fiamme Oro, in Padua, honoring her country in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games, where she reached the 4 x 400 meters relay semi-finals, setting a new Italian record. Medical student and wannabe pediatrician, when she first landed in Italy in 2004, precisely in Milan Malpensa airport, she wondered about the snow, not knowing what it was.

Raphaela Lukudo was born in the province of Caserta by Sudanese parents, and moved to northern Italy when she was only two years old. In 2006, she figured out her talent for track and field, becoming one of the best national prospects. Now she trains in the Italian army sports center in Rome and studies physical education. Her biggest passion? Drawing. An artist and athlet.

Libania Grenot was born and grew up in Cuba until she was 23 years old, when she decided to follow her heart and join her love in Italy. In 2008, after her marriage, she obtained the Italian citizenship and chose to represent and defend the Italian flag. Libania is the Italian record holder in the 200 and 400 meters female races and now is part of the sports group belonging to the financial police, known as Fiamme Gialle.

Four athletes, four different stories and origins that have nothing to do with the current self-serving political consensus-building. Unfortunately, Italian politicians are common in this attitude. Few people remember that, during the 2006 Winter Olympic Games held in Turin, the Italian luger Gerhard Plankensteiner born in the region of South Tyrol, won the bronze medal and, after the race, he said to a journalist “I don’t know that song“, referring to the Italian national anthem.

It was absolute pandemonium. All the politicians were disgusted, the then President of Republic issued a warning and a member of the old centre-left coalition remarked: “Either he makes it clear that it was an unhappy joke, or he should waive the medal“. The only thing Gerhard was guilty of was to grew up in a German-speaking Italian subregion, so he could not really understand the journalist’s question. Anyway, his later answer was exemplary: “I’m so sorry about the misunderstanding, i dedicate the medal to all Italians. I love Italy, i live in Italy and i work for the Forest Department…“.

Well, in 2018, as well as it was in 2006, someone still decides who is more Italian, not on the basis of devotion and sacrifices, but by selecting fellow countrymen from the parent’s origin, the native language or simply the skin and hair colors. Most likely, the next step will be to attribute the citizenship and the moral high ground only to the electorate of a particular party. Too bad for them, sports always uses its universal language, where nations, heroes, wins and losses still exist. Values that, in today’s politics, are difficult to understand.

It was not any accident that the Italian national anthem is called “Brothers of Italy“. Among these brothers, there are brunettes, blondes, redheads, yellows, blacks and whites, including those who insult and those who run the government.