Any Given Sunday: Racism In The Italian Stadiums

The deplorable question of racism in football is unfortunately still present in the Italian public debate.

Racism in Football
Football ultras” by Biso is licensed under CC BY 4.0

The deplorable question of racism in football is still present in the Italian public debate

The deplorable question of racism in football is unfortunately still present in the Italian public debate as something that seems far from being solved. Here in Italy, racist whistles at black players are frequent during the championship, with the last major episode during the Atalanta-Fiorentina match, when the referee had to suspend the match because of the booes coming from the Atalanta supporters. Sometimes things can become even more shameful when there is a chorus from the audience that compares players to monkeys, which can arrive at disgusting levels. This is like that time when the Hellas Verona ultras (hardcore fans) hung a black manequin, and with some fans dressed like Ku Kux Klan members to protest the possible acquisition of Maickel Ferrier, a Dutch player with African origins.

Racism is a common phenomenon also off the pitch. When some days ago a AS Roma supporter sent heavy racist messages on Instagram to his own team player Juan Jesus, this latter has publicly relaunched his name, surname and the horrible insults. In response, AS Roma announced on social media that the supporter was banned for life, calling the professional football League to finally start acting seriously against racism.

Even FIFA president Gianni Infantino highlighted that Italy — and not only its footballing world — is moving in the wrong direction in order to solve the problem. It is quite clear which regulations and tools should be used, and these are shared by the other big European championships like Spain, France and England. So why are we still discussing this issue in Italy?

In Italy, there are approximately 41.000 people who belong to an organized group of supporters — which is not a huge number — and they are always a minority in the stands. But it’s only a few idiots within these groups that spoil everything and for which it should be made easy to remove them from the stadiums. The first part of the problem is that the business of Italian stadiums over the years has turned into a gray area, a no-mans land, where political extremism and organized crime sometimes meet together. This means that some organized group of ultras actually have the power to speak their minds and to threaten the football companies. It happened recently when the heads of the Juventus ultras were arrested for extortion, which had lasted years, towards the football club in order to get a large amount of free tickets; some of them are also allegedly linked to ‘Ndrangheta criminal groups.

The second part is that many clubs tend to underestimate the problem, not believing that it is really serious. The fines that the clubs have to pay each time that these episodes happen are probably worth more to them than to actually try to tackle racism, such as a face-recognition control system that would consequentially exacerbate the already-tense relations with the ultras. Despite having managed to reduce the every-Sunday violence in football after the murder of the Carabiniere Filippo Raciti in 2007, the political response against racism has not been so efficient. In the last few days, the newly-appointed sport minister Vincenzo Spadafora has declared his intention to make face recognition systems mandatory in the stadiums, but this statement was not echoed by the public. Probably we will find ourselves discussing the same thing again next year, as normally happens.

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