One Saturday afternoon, ten-year-old boys pitched in Brianza, northern Italy, for a football match. Called "pulcini", or chicks, in Italian, they represented the Aurora Desio and Sovicese clubs. At some point, the game warmed up and a Sovicese fan shouted to an opposing player: "black shit".
The next day, for the Italian Championship, fans at the Verona stadium made monkey sounds for striker Mario Balotelli, from Brescia, who kicked the ball into the stands and threatened to leave the game.
Separated for about 24 hours, the two cases in early November illustrate how the racism persists in Italian football.
In series A alone, at least 12 out of 38 rounds since the end of August, there have been at least five episodes of racism. The targets were black players. In addition to Balotelli, Ivorian Franck Kessié, Belgian Romelu Lukaku, Guinean Ronaldo Vieira and Brazilian Dalbert Henrique are among the recent victims.
Although occurrences not restricted to Italy –Brazilians Taison and Dentinho have been targets in recent days in Ukraine– and not even news – in 2013 Kevin-Prince Boateng, then at Milan, also kicked the ball into the stands after offensive shouts – there is a feeling that racism is more frequent in the country's football.
According to Marco Antonsich, an Italian professor who researches human geography at Loughborough University in England, the scenario in Italy is very particular due to two reasons: later immigration movements in relation to other European countries and the current popularity of right-wing nationalist parties. .
"Football simply reflects what happens within society," he says. "In Italy, the situation is peculiar because the experience of having a multicultural society is more recent than in other countries."
France and England, for example, saw immigration grow soon after World War II due to the colonial past, and Germany in the 1950s implemented programs to attract workers from other countries, such as Turkey.
"In the Italian case, the colonial experience, understood as part of the fascist project, was set aside in the postwar period and had no further discussion," explains the professor. Italy was present in North African countries such as Libya, Eritrea and Somalia.
It was not until the 1990s, with the collapse of neighboring communist regimes such as Albania and Romania, that Italy began to deal with immigration more intensely. In recent years, the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean Sea has taken the issue to the top of national concerns.
"It was a major transformation of society in a short time. People were unprepared in Italy, and institutions were unable to help. On the contrary, they took advantage of fear, as we see today with some political parties," says Antonsich.
He cites the popularity of right-wing parties as a driver of racist offenses. At the beginning of November, the Matteo Salvini League had 34.3% of voting intentions, the highest rate, while Giorgia Meloni's Fratelli d'Italia had 9.8%.
Both politicians have strong anti-immigration speech, which, according to the teacher, ends up encouraging behaviors such as the fan who offended the black child a few weeks ago. One of Salvini's slogans is "prima gli italiani" (first the Italians).
"There is a political language that legitimizes these expressions of racism. This is the big problem today. I don't want to say that society was not racist in the past, but any case was considered wrong, it was disapproved. Not today," says Antonsich.
The link between political nationalism and football is quite explicit in some cases, such as Luca Castellini's "ultra", as extremist organized fans are called, who wrote on social media that Balotelli "will never be fully Italian." The striker was born in Palermo, south of the country, the son of Ghanaian parents.
Castellini is one of the coordinators of Forza Nuova, a neo-fascist minority party, and linked to Verona's organized Hellas crowd, where the monkey imitation directed at the Brescia player started. He, who had already been banned from Italian stadiums by 2022, had his sentence extended to 2030 in Verona's own arena.
"Unlike other countries, such as England, which have been tougher against ultras and the phenomena of violence, not just racism, Italy has some good laws but little enforcement," says Nicola Pasini, professor of the Social Sciences department. and Policies of the University of Milan. "In episodes of racism during matches, the game must be completely stopped."
In January of this year, the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) updated rules to curb cases of discrimination in stadiums, with more details on procedures and responsibilities in cases of offensive tracks and screams. The game shall not start until acts have stopped and may be permanently suspended.
But, according to experts, just the legal, punitive field is not enough. Pasini says that the reduction of racism, not only in football, requires the need for national reconstruction.
"In 60 million people, 6 million people are not part of, say, Italy in the historical sense," he says.
Antonsich agrees and even suggests reforming the school curriculum. "The history of Italy must insert the history of immigration. We have to rewrite the idea of nation, rewrite what it means to be Italian. We cannot continue to say that Italy is made only of Christians and whites."
. (tagsToTranslate) Italy (t) racism (t) sheet