Luis Suarez and John Terry have been hogging all the soccer press lately, including the territory usually reserved for leagues besides the vaunted EPL.
That’s right, English football has been getting into the racism game lately, but Serie A fans won’t cede their ground so easily.
While many will hastily claim the EPL superior in terms of both quality and tolerance, these latest episodes suggest much more equality on that latter, ignominious front than Serie A’s detractors have ever cared to admit.
As two of Italy’s most supported sides, Milan and Napoli, get set to face English opposition in the Champions League Round of 16, now seems as good a time as any to look into the current state of razzismo in Serie A and how it compares to the situation in England.
Let me start by saying that I take no joy in the racist incidents that have put a stain on this year’s EPL season.
But as a long time Serie A fan, it does tickle me a bit that the item many of the most vocal critics of Italian football point to when negatively comparing it to the English variety has reared its ugly head in their beloved Premiership.
And there has even been some good news the last few seasons with Italian officials effectively enacting anti-racism policies like delaying or halting matches for racist chanting and the league levying fines to clubs for the misbehavior of their ultras.
But fear not, EPL lovers. Italy manages to hold the moral high-ground about as well as it manages to hold successful parliament sessions.
The reigning leaders of Italian racism, Juventus were recently issued their second 10,000-euro fine for racist chants hurled by their fans towards Udinese’s Pablo Armero and Gelson Fernandes.
Juve have faced by far the most of these types of penalties and have also been forced to close certain sections of the stands and even play a game behind closed doors in the 2008/2009 season.
Cagliari and Brescia have also been hit in recent years, but these fairly tough sanctions (as well as new security laws, it must be said) have greatly diminished incidents across the peninsula.
But if you only read the report of the AFP journalist Barnaby Chesterman (could his name be more British?), you’d be forgiven for thinking that, compared to Italy, England is a bastion of racial harmony. I am particularly irked by his choice of quotes from players who have experienced racism in Italy.
First up, Balotelli, famously a victim of vile behavior during his time with Inter:
“I had to learn to live with racism in Italy, to pretend it was nothing, but it burnt. In England that doesn’t happen. But it shouldn’t happen anywhere.”
If anyone can speak authoritatively on this topic it might just be Balotelli, but I bet the striker (who was surely still smarting from his own abuse) would like to amend the statement today. It certainly does happen in England.
Next, Louis Saha, who faced racism in Champions League trip to Roma with Manchester United:
“We are travelling to Italy, and in those kind of places it seems like they are used to it. They don’t fight it like we have done in England.”
“They are starting to recognise it and think about it, but not very strongly – whereas England is a good example of where it has been tackled.”
It is patently untrue that Serie A has done nothing to address a very real issue and it’s just impossible to claim that racism has been “tackled” anywhere.
Finally, former Japan and Celtic star Shunsuke Nakamura on his time in Italy with Reggina:
“Sometimes you get racism… not in Scotland but in Italy, which is not nice, and that probably explains why so few Japanese players have made it (in Italy)”
Apparently sectarian violence doesn’t count.
I take no issue with these players. They have undoubtedly been subjected to ugliness that no one deserves.
And I am in no way trying to minimize the seriousness of racism in Serie A merely by pointing out that hey, it happens in England too!
But, in light of recent events, the media must begin to approach the topic of racism in world football in a much more even-handed way.
In fact, I would even suggest that the scapegoating and labelling of racism on foreign leagues blinded many EPL fans, players, managers, and journalists to the distasteful realities present in their own game.
This is, and has always been, an issue that UEFA and FIFA must take the reins on. Penalties need to get harsher and come from higher up. Across the board.
And hell, let it all start in Italy, where Lazio fans once again disgraced themselves, their team, league, and country by leaving racially abusive twitter messages for outgoing striker Djibril Cisse. (Warning: Link brings you to another article totally ignoring the situation in England.)