Romelu Lukaku’s transfer to Internazionale Milano has shown that he can still score goals. Yet with his move has come a stark reminder of the racism plaguing Italian football.
“We understand that it could have seemed racist to you but it is not like that. In Italy we use some ‘ways’ only to ‘help our teams’ and to try to make our opponents nervous, not for racism but to mess them up,” said the Curva Nord about overt racist chants aimed at Lukaku by Cagliari supporters.
For those unfamiliar with Italian football, the Curva Nord is a group of hardcore Inter supporters often accused of harbouring fascist, racist tendencies. Does this group of die-hard fans simply revel in being racist?
The Curva Nord themselves give us the answer. “Very few were true Interisti, some of them have become Interisti during the passing of time … That is why we will never forget … Samuel Eto’o.” This is the great Cameroonian Eto’o, one of just four players to win the Champions League twice successively with different teams. Despite the colour of his skin, he is deeply adored and so highly regarded by these same Ultras.
These points seem to indicate that the Curva Nord do not have a problem with foreign players, nor black players. Does this mean that this group will not employ racist chants to “mess … up” opponents?
Absolutely not. Answering to whether they will make use of something similar to the abhorrent racist chants heard in the Cagliari game, the Curva unflinchingly say “we probably will in the future”. All of us who are against racism know how offensive, painful, and disgusting it is, and how chilling these comments sound.
This is precisely why they consciously and cunningly brand the racist actions of Cagliari fans as ‘Italian ways’. In doing so, they have already made their defence for their racist actions not yet committed, washing their hands even before Jesus is brought in front of them. We have been warned of what’s to come. We may note that the Curva Nord, some obscene Cagliari fans, and a small minority of Italian game-goers who are racist, are by no means ignorant of racism and the pains, offence and tension it causes. On the contrary, these relatively few individuals are in full knowledge of the struggles and damage caused by racism and employ this disgusting attitude primarily, but not solely, to “mess … up” black players on opposing teams.
The Ultras want their team to win; that is the priority. The primary problem is not the ignorance of racism and its effects, but the shocking willingness to employ it, in full knowledge of its harm (as any other form of abuse) in an attempt to boost their own team’s chance at winning.
This is to no degree an excuse or justification, and neither does it mean that there are no individuals who are actually racist out of sheer, genuine ignorance, and not for the serpentine sake of supposed club-football glory. Italy (as everywhere) still has a significant fraction of its population which deploy racism in the former sense, that is out of oblivion and uneducation, as shown by Luciano Passirani’s racist remarks on Top Calcio 24 with regards to Lukaku’s performance, as well as the political situation.
Italian football clearly has a problem with racism to a degree higher than any other top European league, but it is not solely the racism we often assume.
Amongst some Ultras, racism is not only the wretched, reeking tree which grows on the polluted and uncultivated soil of ignorance, but it is also the wooden tools willingly and tactfully deployed in a grim, sly and tenacious attempt to wedge our squadra to another precious league win, at the cost of the dignity and respect of opposing coloured players.
And this indeed is why racism in Italy is so overt and hard to weed out.
Image: Светлана Бекетова via Wikimedia Commons