Racism is still rife – and unpunished – in Italian football

These should be the best of times for Italian football. Juventus are on the verge of their second Champions League final in three years, new investors are promising a revival of AC Milan and Inter Milan and Serie A is slowly casting off its reputation for sterile defensive fare.

Racism is still rife - and unpunished - in Italian football
Pescara's Sulley Muntari (left) during a Serie A match. File photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

But it all risks being clouded by reminders of football's dark ages: racism has returned to haunt the national sport.

Ten days after Ghana midfielder Sulley Muntari walked off in disgust after being racially abused during a match at Cagliari, the fans responsible have not been identified. No action has been taken against the Sardinian club.

Muntari however was penalized, after failing to persuade the referee to suspend the match.

Remonstrating with the fans earned him a first yellow card; walking off, a second and an automatic one-match ban.

An outcry spearheaded by the international players' union and the UN human rights agency saw the ban overturned on appeal.

Muntari has subsequently sought to highlight his treatment in interviews. He says he was made to “feel like a criminal” and accused the game's governing bodies of failing to take the race issue seriously.

Scrutiny of Italian football has increased after Juventus' Moroccan defender Medhi Benatia cut short a TV interview on Saturday after reportedly hearing someone involved in the production describing him in racially derogatory terms.

'Racism never punished'

That incident would appear to reflect racism in Italian society rather than being particular to football.

But according to sociologist and writer Mauro Valeri, Italian football's racism problem is only partly about sport reflecting the outside world.

“What happened with Muntari is a very important episode. But only because he reacted. Sadly, this kind of thing is all too common,” Valeri told AFP.

“And it is not just Serie A and B. In junior football there have been 80 registered cases of black players being abused in the last two years. Usually by parents of their opponents and almost invariably nothing is done about it.”

The Muntari abuse was one of a string of recent cases of black players being verbally attacked from the stands.

Serie A has sanctions procedures but the criteria for applying them are so specific (such as the whole stadium must be able to hear the abuse), they are hardly ever used.

And when they are, the penalty is suspended so fines only apply in the event of a second offence. “It is just ridiculous,” says Valeri. “The result is racism is never punished.”

Another problem is that although Italy has strong legislation covering racial abuse, the law requires positive identification of the individuals involved, and clubs cannot be held responsible for failing to identify perpetrators.

Valeri says this is partly about clubs' fear of alienating their most fervent fans, but broader cultural and political questions also shape attitudes in a specifically Italian way.

Stadium to streets

“Within Italian football there is no anti-racism movement and other anti-racism associations don't take any interest in football,” says Valeri.

This leaves anyone who takes a stand isolated, as happened to the country's most prominent black player, Mario Balotelli.

“He had to endure endless abuse but he never had any kind of support in trying to stop it,” said Valeri, noting how reluctant white Italian footballers are to join anti-racism campaigns.

“In Italy anti-racism is not everyone's battle. If you say you are against racism, you risk people saying maybe you're a communist.”

Mainstream Italian politicians are reluctant to take a stand for fear of being seen as not appreciating voters' worries about the arrival of more than half a million mainly African migrants in Italy in the last three years.

“Today, talking about racism means losing votes,” said Valeri.

Within football, suggesting Italy could learn from neighbouring countries seems to raise hackles.

“I don't believe it is just an Italian problem, it's global,” Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini said ahead of Tuesday's Champions League semi-final tie with Monaco.

“I just hope that as soon as possible we can stop talking about racism and race and only talk about Chiellini, Benatia, Muntari, what they do on the pitch, were they good or not so good.”

Hoping the problem will go away is not enough, says Valeri, who fears the current climate in Italy could see football's problem spill over.

“Many sociologists talk of the phenomenon of the weekend racist – someone who goes to the stadium and shouts abuse but does not apply the same approach to people he meets during the week.”

“Personally I think that is wrong and what is happening in the stadiums now risks being reproduced outside.

“If it is okay to insult black players inside a stadium, it quickly becomes normal to insult a young guy from Gambia or elsewhere that you meet in the street.”

By Angus MacKinnon

READ ALSO: Find the latest sport news from Italy hereFor the first time, a woman will coach an Italian national football teamPhoto: Vince Bucci/AFP



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PHOTOS: Italy’s most memorable medals at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games

The Tokyo Olympics were Italy's best Games yet, with Italian athletes taking home more medals than ever before. Here are the highlights.

PHOTOS: Italy’s most memorable medals at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games
Italy's Lamont Marcell Jacobs and Gianmarco Tamberi celebrate after winning golds in the 100m sprint and high jump. Photo by Jonathan NACKSTRAND / AFP

With ten golds, ten silvers and 20 bronzes, the Azzurri representing Italy in Tokyo were tenth on the medal table overall and top in Italian sporting history.

Previously the most medals Italy had ever won at a single Olympics was 36, which the country hadn’t equalled since the Rome Games in 1960.

READ ALSO: ‘Do Italy just win everything now?’: Celebrations after Italian athletes take Olympic gold

As well as a ceremony at the presidential palace in September, Italy’s Olympic champions will be welcomed back with prize money from the Italian National Olympic Committee: gold medalists are awarded €180,000 each, while silver medallists get €90,000 and bronze medallists get €60,000.

And then there’s the glory: after an exceptionally successful summer of Italian sport and music, Italy’s Olympic team dubbed their athletes “stupor mundi” – Latin for ‘the wonder of the world’. 

Italy’s gold medals at the 2020 Olympics

  • Men’s high jump: Gianmarco Tamberi

Italian high jumper Gianmarco Tamberi couldn’t have been happier to share the gold with his fellow competitor Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar, in what was hailed as one of the most touching moments of the Games. 

  • Men’s 100m: Lamont Marcell Jacobs

Relatively unknown long jumper-turned-sprinter Lamont Marcell Jacobs was in the form of his life when he outran the favourites and hurtled to first place in the biggest race in men’s athletics. He’s the first Italian ever to qualify for the Olympic final of the event, let alone win it.

Photo by Jewel SAMAD / AFP
  • Men’s 4 x 100m relay 

Lorenzo Patta, Lamont Marcell Jacobs, Eseosa Desalu and Filippo Tortu pulled off an astonishing victory by the smallest of margins, with Tortu flinging himself over the finish line to snatch gold from the favourites, Great Britain, by just a hundredth of a second. It was another historic first for Italy: the country has never before won the event, and the last time an Italian team got onto the podium was at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin (silver). 

Photo by Jewel SAMAD / AFP
  • Men’s 20km race walk: Massimo Stano
  • Women’s 20km race walk: Antonella Palmisano

Antonella Palmisano cemented Italy’s domination of the walking competition when she followed up her teammate Massimo Stano’s gold with her own victory a day later. She actually performed slightly faster at the Rio Olympics in 2016, but that time only earned her fourth last time round.

Photo by Giuseppe CACACE / AFP
  • Track cycling, men’s team pursuit

Italy’s four-man team set a new track cycling world record by completing 16 laps (4km) in just 3:42.032. While Great Britain had long dominated the event and Denmark were reigning World Champions, no Italian team had won it since the Rome Olympics of 1960.

Photo by Greg Baker / AFP
  • Karate, men’s kumite -75kg: Luigi Busa
  • Rowing, lightweight women’s double sculls 
Valentina Rodini (L) and Federica Cesarini (R) celebrate their win in the lightweight women’s double sculls final. Photo by Luis ACOSTA / AFP
  • Sailing, mixed multihull – Nacra 17 foiling
  • Taekwondo, Men’s -58kg: Vito Dell’Aquila

Vito Dell’Aquila won Italy its first gold of the Games, at the age of just 20. It was his first Olympics but at this rate, it won’t be his last.

Photo by Javier SORIANO / AFP

Italy’s silver medals at the 2020 Olympics

  • Artistic gymnastics, women’s floor exercise: Vanessa Ferrari

Arguably Italy’s greatest competing gymnast, 30-year-old Vanessa Ferrari proved the value of experience when she became the first Italian to win an individual Olympic medal for women’s artistic gymnastics.

Photo by Loic VENANCE / AFP
  • Men’s individual archery: Mauro Nespoli
  • Men’s kayak single 200m: Manfredi Rizza
  • Fencing, men’s foil individual: Daniele Garrozo
  • Fencing, men’s sabre individual: Luigi Samele
  • Fencing, men’s sabre team

Fencing has long been one of Italy’s strongest sports, and these Games were no exception. Altogether Italian fencers took three silvers and two bronzes in both team and individual events. 

Italy’s Luca Curatoli (L) competes against South Korea’s Gu Bongil in the men’s sabre team gold medal bout. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP
  • Women’s skeet shooting: Diana Bacosi
  • Swimming, men’s 4 x 100m freestyle relay
  • Swimming, men’s 800m freestyle: Gregorio Paltrinieri 
  • Weightlifting, women’s 64kg: Giorgia Bordignon
    Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

    Italy’s bronze medals at the 2020 Olympics

    • Women’s individual archery: Lucilla Boari
    • Women’s featherweight boxing: Irma Testa

    Irma “Butterfly” Testa made history as the first Italian woman to win an Olympic medal for boxing, a victory she dedicated to all of Italy’s female boxers.

    Photo by Luis ROBAYO / POOL / AFP
    • Women’s cycling road race: Elisa Longo Borghini 
    • Track cycling, men’s omnium: Elia Viviani 
    • Men’s 10km marathon swimming: Gregorio Paltrinieri 

    Gregorio Paltrinieri is one of the best long-distance swimmers there is, holding the men’s world record for the 1500m freestyle. He comes home from Tokyo with two medals: silver in the 800m freestyle, and bronze in the gruelling 10km swim.

    Photo by Jonathan NACKSTRAND / AFP
    • Swimming, men’s 100m breaststroke: Nicolo Martinenghi
    • Swimming, men’s 100m butterfly: Federico Burdisso
    • Swimming, men’s 4 x 100m medley relay
    • Swimming, women’s 800m freestyle: Simona Quadarella 
    • Judo, women’s -52kg: Odette Giuffrida
    Photo by Franck FIFE / AFP
    • Judo, women’s -63kg: Maria Centracchio
    • Fencing, women’s épée team
    • Fencing, women’s foil team 
    • Karate, women’s kata: Viviana Bottaro

    Accomplished karateka Viviana Bottaro won Italy its first Olympic medal in karate, which made its debut at the Tokyo Games. 

    Photo by Alexander NEMENOV / AFP
    • Rowing, lightweight men’s double sculls
    • Rowing, men’s four
    • Rhythmic gymnastics, group all-around

    Nicknamed le Farfalle (‘the Butterflies’), Italy’s five-woman rhythmic gymnastic team provided one of Italy’s last medal-winning performances on the final day of the Games, and one of the most spectacular.

    Photo by Lionel BONAVENTURE / AFP
    • Weightlifting, men’s 67kg: Mirko Zanni 
    • Weightlifting, men’s 81kg: Antonino Pizzolato
    • Wrestling, men’s freestyle 97kg: Abraham de Jesus Conyedo Ruano