Italian sports takes a dark turn as controversy strikes
By RENEE WANG
“Tone deaf, ignorant and with the usual racial undertones. Saying I’m shocked would be a lie at this point,” tweeted sports journalist Matteo Bonetti.
On Dec. 4, the headline, “Black Friday,” showcased on an Italian newspaper, Corriere Dello Sport, and garnered much attention for its racist connotations. The cover photo featured former Manchester United teammates Chris Smalling and Romelu Lukaku, both of whom are dark-skinned. The title was used with the intention of describing the match that would take place later in the week, only to be received as offensive and blatantly racist.
While the headline has been criticized by soccer fans and players alike, it must be noted that not only does the headline display the publication’s carelessness, but also reveals a detrimental problem needed to be tackled in Italian soccer: racism.
To elaborate, the headline became a target of condemnation given that the meaning behind “Black Friday” gave off the wrong message to fans, especially to English speakers who only saw the bright yellow title and not the article itself. Since its publication, Corriere dello Sport editor, Ivan Zazzaroni has spoken out to defend the article against the various allegations.
“Black Friday is the innocent title of a newspaper, ours, which for almost a century has been defending with obstinacy and passion, simply passion, the values of sport.,” Zazzaroni said.
As it turned out, the content of the article was actually meant raise awareness about Italian soccer clubs not taking enough action towards racism in the sport. Ironically, the title goes against what the newspaper was trying to accomplish, given the anti-racist content is overlooked by its offensive title. Although the newspaper has defended its “innocent title” and tried to communicate a meaningful message of racism, as it stands, it has only managed to fuel the high racial tensions in Italy.
Even though the content was for a good cause, the title has mislead the people, and because of it, the issue that needed to be noticed was undermined by accusations and defenses from both sides.
Regardless of the minute public backlash over the implied racist headline, what fans have truly failed to notice is how prevalent racism is within the ever-popular sport. How players of other races are succumbing to mean chants and harassment from fans of opposing teams. Earlier this year, Lukaku was the victim of offensive “monkey” chants from Cagliari fans along with Brescia striker Mario Balotelli, who experienced several instances of verbal abuse by Verona fans.
Despite the promises of top Italian soccer clubs to quickly resolve such issues, the Italian problem of racism ultimately stems from the lack of action taken towards these offenses, which are near to none.
Based on the poor reaction to the Lukaku and Balotelli incident, many have also pointed to the soccer association’s fault in not being able to adequately punish its players. As stated by the Executive Director of Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) Piara Powar, the lack of initiative to take action comes from previous retaliations to these racist incidents which have not been responded very well by the public.
By evading the problem at hand, the players are the ones suffering in the end. For example, from the account of a former American soccer player, DaMarcus Beasly still remembers 12 years ago, being subjected to monkey chants whenever he touched the ball. This only goes to show just how such offensive demonstrations can affect a person’s mental state, as Beasly recalls to never forget the game.
So what can be done about it?
Fortunately, racism is getting better compared to previous years. For example, executives of Milan and Roma signed with eighteen Serie A teams to admit the Italian soccer racism issue, which called upon the league to enforce an anti-racism policy and stricter laws. Better yet, some authorities have already started to act upon people making racist comments, while many others showed their support in opposition to racist insults.
In the end, racism in soccer does not have a foreseeable end, given that people have the right to believe and act the way that they do. However, that does not mean that those in charge should stand idly by while players are being harassed with taunts that judge them by skin without considering their skill.