Serie A and Racism: The Links to 1833

Inter Milan’s new striker, Romelu Lukaku was subject to racist abuse in matchday two of the Serie A season earlier this month. Whilst preparing to take a penalty, the Belgian was subject to monkey chants from Cagliari supporters.

Following the match, Lukaku took to Twitter in an attempt to urge the Italian football authorities to do more to prevent this kind of racist abuse from happening in Italy.

It seems like Lukaku’s plea fell upon deaf ears. Inter Milan’s ultra group, Curva Nord replied to the striker in an open letter.

“We are really sorry you thought what happened in Cagliari was racist,” they wrote. “You have to understand that Italy is not like many other north European countries where racism is a real problem. 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 try to make our opponents nervous, not for racism but to mess them up… Please consider this attitude of Italian fans as a form of respect for the fact that they are afraid of you for the goals you might score against their teams and not because they hate or they are racist.”

The letter, which is a pathetic attempt to cover for the inexplicable racism that Lukaku suffered, displays the gross backwardness of Italian thought in the patronising way they downplay monkey chants for a form of mild sledging.

Sadly, their views on racism are not surprising, considering they are within Italian football. This is not a one-off case, but something which is intrinsic throughout football in Italy. Serie A’s disciplinary judge appeared to side more with the Curva Nord, as he claimed that he needed more evidence before deciding if Cagliari should be punished for the chants.

The league’s judge, Gerardo Mastrandrea failed to even write the word “racist” in his weekly report after the match, merely referring to “chants”.

This has been an issue that the league have dodged in recent seasons too. Moise Kean was subject to racist chants against Cagliari earlier this year, Blaise Matuidi also in 2018, and Sulley Muntari in 2017. Serie A did not sanction Cagliari for any of these incidents. It appears that Italian football will not change its barbaric stance on racism anytime soon.

Granted, a number of clubs in Serie A have introduced cameras, which enable facial recognition, such as: Juventus, Sassuolo and Udinese. This kind of technology makes it easier to identify and take action against those chanting racist abuse.

Furthermore, Serie A “strongly condemns” the racial abuse suffered by Lukaku and has announced plans for an anti-discrimination plan, which is to be put into action next month.

Still, these are just small measures, which will not solve the huge problem that Serie A has with racism.

Perhaps an answer in how the situation will unfold can be traced to 1833, when issues over race were prevalent. This is the year that Britain abolished slavery, after signing the Slavery Abolition Act. In the centuries following this act, it has been praised for recognising, at last, the horrific conditions of the slave trade, and bringing an end to it, due to the humanitarian issues.

Propaganda for the 1833 Slavery Abolition Act

However, a closer look at the history tells a different story.  

With the industrial revolution in the 18th century, Britain no longer needed slave-based goods. The country was now benefiting from new systems of free labour and free trade. Adam Smith’s book, ‘Wealth of Nations’ contributed to the anti-slavery cause, by likening slavery to a monopoly which was unsustainable in a free market economy. Now, in the age of capitalism, slave labour, with no incentives, was seen as inefficient.

At the start of the 19th century slavery for Britain was becoming much less profitable. Historian, Eric Williams, has argued that the abolition of slavery came about because the system of slavery no longer had the significance it once possessed for Britain, economically. From 1821-1832, British exports to its West Indian colonies declined by 25%.

This strongly suggests that the abolition of slavery in Britain was at the very least, catalysed by economic issues.

This is significant for the current state of Italian football, because similar economic reasons could finally persuade the Serie A to take a tougher stance on racism.

Even if the people in power in Italian football, have no interest in combatting racism because of the negative effect it has on the black players who play in Serie A, they may take more interest in the issue, if the brand of Serie A begins to decline.

As racism only seems to be getting worse in Italy, eventually brands will pull out of their sponsorship in the league, resulting in financial losses for football in Italy. This way, the Italian football authorities will finally begin to properly adjudicate race issues in Serie A.

Several of Inter Milan’s celebrity fans have recently come out to distance themselves from the stance of Curva Nord. Enrico Mentana, Enrico Bertolino and Cianfelic Facchetti have all condemned the ultra’s letter this week.

It may not be too soon, until sponsorships and mainstream media begin to distance themselves away from the Serie A.

Another way that the Serie A may suffer financially from the racism in their football, will be through the decline in black players joining clubs in Italy.

This week, former Demba Ba stated why he never played in Italy. “And here’s the reason why I decided not to play there when I could,” he said. “And at that point I wish all the black players would get out of this league!”

19 of the 55 FIFPro best player’s list are either black, African, or mixed-raced. One of them, Kalidou Koulibaly has even suffered racist abuse himself, at the hands of Inter’s fans.

If such abhorrent abuse continues, it will not be long until more black players are put off playing in Serie A. With many of the best players in the world being either black, or having African descent, this would harm both the quality of Serie A football, and also lead to a decline in revenue for the league.

Although, it may not be the right way to deal with racism, the Italian football authorities may have their hands forced soon by the financial ramifications that the ugliness of racism has on the brand of Serie A. The very fact, that this situation is even comparable to a situation in 1833, displays the backwardness of Italian society and Italian football today. Something must change soon.

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