Are Racist Chants a Feature of Italian Football Culture?

Published November 5th, 2019 - 04:24 GMT
Mario Balotelli
Mario Balotelli

Brescia striker Mario Balotelli was subjected to racist abuse from Hellas Verona fans during a Italian Serie A match on Sunday.

After hearing monkey chants from the stands, Balotelli stopped his participation in the game and threw the ball at Verona fans. The referee ordered that a warning message be read out over the stadium’s loudspeaker.

Despite the incident, Verona coach Ivan Juric described the chants as not offensive or racist.

“They provoked him with jeers and sarcastic chants, but they were not racist. Anything else is a lie,”he said.

A man who identified himself as a Verona ultras leader, spoke to Verona-based Radio Cafe and accused Balotelli of “clowning around.”

He described themselves as “irreverent supporters” and added: “Balotelli’s Italian because he has Italian citizenship, but he can never be completely Italian.”

The incident is the latest racist targeting black footballers in Italian football. Such incidents have become increasingly common in recent years and just a day before the Brescia-Verona match a match between AS Roma and Napoli was temporarily suspended after supporters targeted Napoli’s Senegalese defender Kalidou Koulibaly with racist taunts.

Responding to a previous incident at an AC Milan match, Koulibaly said he was “proud” of his skin colour.

The players are among a growing list of footballers who have been subject to abuse in Serie A.

After Inter Milan star Romelu Lukaku was abused by Cagliari fans, instead of defending the striker, Inter shared a letter saying that the chants were not racist but rather a part of Italian footballing culture. Their own fans were likely to partake in similar abuse in the future, the club added in an open letter.

“We understand that it could have seemed racist to you but it is not like that. In Italy we use some ‘ways’ only to ‘help our teams’ and to try to make our opponents nervous, not for racism but to mess them up,” the letter read.

The racism is not limited to just fans and even includes commentators. In once incident a broadcaster said “the only way to out-muscle (Lukaku) is to give him ten bananas to eat."

Despite the clearly racist nature of comparing black people to apes, the commentator insisted he was not a racist.

Rules and punishments

Italian soccer federation president Gabriele Gravina has unveiled new anti-racism measures to stop repeat incidents.

Clubs will have to get tougher on individuals responsible for racist taunts and could be held liable if no action is take.

“If some clubs don’t want to share the names of those responsible then (the responsibility) goes back to being objective and they can still be punished,” Gravina said.

The measure has provoked criticism from some clubs.

Lazio have insisted the jeers are not always a discriminatory or racist, claiming that it was not just black players who were targeted.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino has blasted Italian soccer authorities for “hiding the truth” about racism in a scathing assessment.

“I don’t see why we have to hide the truth, not talk about what happens or say that it is not serious. No, that’s not how you go about it,” Infantino said in an interview with Sky Italia. “It’s unacceptable, absurd and surprising.”

On July 25, FIFA adopted the “Three-step procedure” for discriminatory incidents which give three options, stopping, suspending, and abandoning, to match referees.


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