January 18, 2010

Racism Persists in International Soccer

Next week's league match between Italian football giants AS Roma and Juventus, to be held in Juventus' Stadio Olimpico in Turin, will be marked by a closure of a part of the stadium not for violence, or hooliganism, but for racist chants directed at Inter Milan's Mario Balotelli.  Last Wednesday, a group of fans seated in the Stadio Olimpico's South End started the chants during halftime of Juventus' home win against Napoli.

Two important elements of context. First,this area of the stadium - called the Curva Sud - is typically where the team's most intense and right-wing fans (called "Ultras") sit for games.  Second, the game where these chants took place was between Juventus and Napoli. Keep in mind Balotelli plays for Inter.

Yet, it was strange for me to see the Huffington Post attempt to contextualize the news with this photo:

The seats aflame have nothing to do with the serious issue of racism in international football. So, why? What is the narrative portrayed by the juxtaposed photograph? "Arsonists likely to be racists"?

But I digress.  Last week, Balotelli voiced his frustrations at the jeers he received when he was substituted in a game played against AC Chievo in Verona, Italy.  In his post-game comments, Balotelli said, "Every time I come to play in Verona, the city disgusts me even more." For that reaction, Balotelli earned a $10,000 fine and later issued an statement on his website apologizing:
"...to those who were innocent and whom I offended through my expressions, which were conditioned by the boos I received during the game.  I should have made it clear that the fans in Verona and around Italy who boo me disgust me...I am tired of always hearing racist chants when I'm on the pitch.  It doesn't happen just at Verona."
Unfortunately for Balotelli, this sort of treatment has indeed become commonplace for him as he has risen in prominence in the top division of Italian football (this season, he has 5 goals in 15 Serie A appearances).  Born in Palermo, Italy, the 19 year-old Balotelli is of Ghanian descent and has made numerous appearances with the under-21 Italian national team.

Inter fans call him "Super Mario"

Just last year, the governing body of Italian football threatened to close Juventus' stadium after a game between Juve and Inter featured the following chants:
  • "Non ci sono negri italiani" - "There are no black Italians."
  • "Negro di merda" - (roughly) "Sh*tty n*gger."
These, coupled with frequent monkey chants, can be heard in a number of fan-created YouTube videos.  The video below was taken from a game last year between Juventus and Inter Milan.

When the former of the two chants were heard during last week's game at Juventus' Stadio Olimpico, Italian football quickly issued the ban of the "Curva Sud" (South Stand) for the game on the 23rd of January.  Apparently, Juventus will not appeal the ban.

The Ultras at the Stadio delle Alpi (home stadium 1990-2006)

The Ultras at the Stadio Olimpico (2006-current)

Today, considering the life of Martin Luther King, Jr.,  I think it is critical for us to maintain an awareness of racial issues in all walks of life.  When it comes to racism in soccer, the sad thing is that there are still some individuals out there who are ruining the beautiful game.

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