THERE continues to be a major problem in Italian football given the recent campaign touted to wage the war against racism in its ranks.

In December 2019, Serie A unveiled its ‘No To Racism’ posters at its headquarters in Milan.

The posters depicted the faces of three monkeys.

Serie A has since apologised for the use of imagery of monkeys as part of its campaign. The chief executive, Luigi De Siervo, added “I realized it was inappropriate.”

Anti-discriminatory body Fare said it was left “speechless” and the campaign looked like a “sick joke”, while Kick It Out added the use of monkeys was “completely inappropriate”.

De Siervo added: “What cannot be questioned is the strong and constant condemnation by Serie A against all forms of discrimination and racism, and we are committed to eradicate this from our beloved league.

“Serie A is working on its official anti-racism campaign, which cannot be identified with Simone Fugazzotto’s work, and it will be presented by the end of February.”

Apparently, artist Simone Fugazzotto wanted to impart the message “we are all monkeys.”

Fugazzotto, who always uses monkeys in his work, added: “For an artist there is nothing more important than trying to change the perception of things through his own work.

“I decided to portray monkeys to talk about racism because they are the metaphor for human beings. Last year I was at the stadium to see Inter v Napoli [a match in which Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly was racially abused] and I felt humiliated, everyone was shouting ‘monkey’ at Koulibaly, a player I respect.

“I’ve always been painting monkeys for five to six years, so I thought I’d make this work to teach that we’re all apes, I made the western monkey with blue and white eyes, the Asian monkey with almond-shaped eyes and the black monkey positioned in the centre, where everything comes from. The monkey becomes the spark to teach everyone that there is no difference, there is no man or monkey, we are all alike. If anything we are all monkeys.”

Admirable perhaps, but incredibly naive.

Italian clubs AC Milan and Roma were quick with their disapproval and condemnation. Milan chief executive Ivan Gazidis stating the images “came as a surprise, were insensitive and badly timed”. News website Il Post reported that “predictably, the initiative isn’t causing the desired reaction”. Later, it called the project “embarrassing”, and Esquire Italia commented that “using monkeys amounts to PR suicide… The world is looking at us, and we just can’t get it right”. News agency Adnkronos even enlisted the help of a sociologist, Chiara Saraceno, to help explain why the artwork has caused such controversy: “Even if the core idea is to remind people that we all descend from the apes… it could be seen to mean that some people are closer to monkeys, while others have evolved further. But in a series of Instagram stories posted a few hours after the official launch of the campaign, artist Simone Fugazzotto appeared bewildered at the sudden media attention.

Fugazzotto said that Italian media had already reported on his triptych when it was unveiled at the Stadio Olimpico last May. The artist attributed the current media storm to the fact that outlets such as CNN and the Guardian have picked up the story.

Radio host Linus drew parallels between Fugazzotto’s posters and the recent front page of Italian newspaper Corriere dello Sport, which featured black players Chris Smalling and Romelu Lukaku and the widely criticised headline “Black Friday”.

The implication is that although racist incidents are commonplace in Italy, they rarely even register with the general public unless foreign outlets start paying attention.

Although AC Milan and Roma both issued statements disavowing “what appears to be an anti-racism campaign”, some Twitter users agreed that the story would have never blown up had it not been for the sudden interest taken by international media. Website acknowledged the chasm between domestic and foreign perceptions of racism in Italy, and its attempts to oppose it: “First, the image went viral, and then it became news… It’s only across the border that the idea was immediately seen for what it is: a surreal choice.

“The Lega Serie A has never been great at dealing with discrimination, but it’s managed to do even worse now by creating a controversy out of literally nowhere.”

Former Premier League defender Sylvain Distin says he does not understand “how you can fight racism with something that looks like racism”.

“It just doesn’t make any sense to me, to the point that I went and tried to read as many interviews with the artist as I could,” Distin told BBC Radio 5 Live.

“It’s true that he did a lot of portraits and painting and art around monkeys for five or six years and, from what the artist was saying, it was just his way to say that we are all monkeys – but it just doesn’t look right.

“I just really don’t get it. Are they trying to make things so big that all the little incidents that happen every weekend in Italy just look normal? I don’t understand what they expect, what kind of reaction do you expect with this kind of act? I just don’t get it, I don’t see the point.”

The Fugazzotto case is only the latest in a series of “clumsy” attempts at fighting the racism seemingly entrenched at every level of Italian football. Last November, a children’s football club made the headlines when the mother of one player subjected a child in the rival team to racist slurs.

The club issued a strongly worded statement against “the disgusting event”, and said that, in support of the child, all players from both teams would attend the next game with their faces painted black.

Some Twitter users and media outlets took the initiative to explain the history and implications of blackface, while others praised the club’s initiative, but the story went otherwise unnoticed.

Brescia striker Mario Balotelli is no stranger to racism. It is something he has had to deal with virtually for his entire football career, if not his life.

A stadium announcement was made during the first game of 2020 between Brescia and Lazio urging fans not to sing discriminatory songs.

Balotelli, 29, posted a message on his Instagram account following the match – a 2-1 win for Lazio.

“Lazio fans present at the stadium today, shame on you,” Balotelli wrote, with the hashtag #saynotoracism.

The former Manchester City and Liverpool striker Balotelli had opened the scoring for Brescia with Serie A’s first goal of 2020.

Balotelli had previously threatened to walk off the pitch after receiving racist abuse in a game against Hellas Verona in November of 2019.

“This has nothing to do with football,” Balotelli said.

“You are getting into social and historical situations that are bigger than you, you small-minded people.” Balotelli posted a message on Instagram in response to Luca Castellini, the head of the Verona ultras, who had said “Balotelli is Italian because he has Italian citizenship, but he can never be completely Italian.”

Balotelli, who has played 36 times for Italy and helped to reach the final of the 2012 European Championships, added: “Wake up you imbeciles, you are shambolic.

“When Mario scored a goal for Italy, and – I guarantee you – I will do so again, you are fine with that, aren’t you?” he lamented.

Manchester United mid-fielder Paul Pogba recently took it upon himself to make a statement against racism.

The Frenchman, 26, had wristbands made with the messages “no to racism” and “we are one”, in response to recent incidents of racism in football. Pogba asked his United team-mates to wear the bands before United’s 4-1 win over Newcastle at Old Trafford last month.

“I have been thinking about doing this for a long time,” said Pogba.

“It’s to give support to all the players and show that black, white, Chinese or whatever, who you are – there is only one race.”

“It is to show we are against racism. When people see it, I think it will make them understand some things. It will show them we are all one,” Pogba added.

Ludo Aequitas has long been aware of the problem of racism not only in football, but in sport.

It wants to do more to combat this problem by implementing its initiatives such as “The Ludo Creed” and “Do The Ludo,” cognitive and behavioural components of its campaign.

It wants to fill the void left by the bewildering decision by the United Nations to axe the Office on Sport for Development and Peace in 2017.

Ludo Aequitas has a number of initiatives as used by Paul Pogba and others to wage the war against racism.

Its aim is to improve society and its attitudes towards race, colour, age, sex, gender, religion, disability, social status and now mental health.

Serie A could do a lot worse than affiliating itself with us and adopt our strategies.

Ludo Aequitas – Equality Through Sport


Image via CNN International

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