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Time for Serie A to take drastic action against racism

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Another weekend of excellent football was overshadowed by a group of cave-dwelling racists.

Cagliari Calcio v FC Internazionale - Serie A Photo by Claudio Villa - Inter/Inter via Getty Images

Monkey noises. Again. Cagliari. Again. Zero action. Again.

Here are some dates for you:

· 30th April 2017

· 6th January 2018

· 2nd February 2019

· 1st September 2020

Here is a couple more:

· 10th July 2018

· 28th May 2019

That first list: Just four of the most notable incidents of racism in Italian football in the past couple of years.

2017: Sulley Muntari racially abused by Cagliari fans.

2018: Blaise Matuidi racially abused by Cagliari fans

2019: Moise Kean racially abused by Cagliari fans

And yesterday. You guessed it. Romelu Lukaku was racially abused by Cagliari fans.

Cagliari’s response: “[We] firmly reject the outrageous charge and silly stereotypes addressed to Cagliari supporters and the Sardinian people, which are absolutely unacceptable.”

Cowards.

Keep tracing this back and you will find similar incidents involving Samuel Eto’o and Mario Balotelli – and those are just the ones picked up on by TV broadcasts or on camera phones.

Cagliari has been the most prominent, odious, public offender. But they are not the only ones. Racism is endemic in Italian football. Last week, Inter’s ultras chose to align themselves with a racist, fascist, gangster, who used to head up Lazio’s gang of racist, fascist ultras. This is wide-spread; it is a poison.

Back to that second list. Those are two key dates in Serie A’s bid to become a global league. Juventus signing Cristiano Ronaldo, perhaps the biggest football star on Planet Earth; Italy signing into law the so-called “Beckham” rule, giving tax exemptions to top athletes so that Italian clubs can compete with the rest of Europe’s elite and look to attract the biggest stars.

Italian football has made a play to dine with big boys – the Premier League’s top-four, Barcelona and Real Madrid, and Bayern Munich. They’ve welcomed foreign investment, even from shadowy figures. They’ve penned exclusive deals with ESPN, hoping to use Ronaldo as a springboard for the league as a whole into North American homes.

They have an in-house Serie A Player now, too. Are you in Singapore? Delhi? Lagos? Seoul? Wherever you are, you can lay down some cash and stream Italy’s top flight through your laptop or phone or tablet or whatever. You just might want to keep it on mute.

Lega Serie A, the league’s governing body, and the Italian F.A. are responsible for the continuing abuse levelled at players during games. Laws are on the FIFA books. But the two are unwilling to engage in the kind of hard, punitive punishments that would help

Too often, the players -- those abused and their teammates -- are left to fend for themselves.

This issue isn’t difficult. Stop putting the onus onto the players receiving this abhorrent, hateful speech. Martin Skriniar received a – deserved – amount of praise for his handling of last night’s incident. He heard the crowd, hugged his teammate, then turned and shushed the racists. When you compare that to last year’s incident in which Leonardo Bonucci said the blame was “50-50” between Kean and the racist fans, it’s clear to see why Skriniar is featured in every think piece such as this one.

But think about what we’re expecting here. Skriniar told a pack of racists to shut the fuck up because anyone with a brain cell would tell a pack of racists to shut the fuck up. That Skriniar’s finger-over-lips treatment is being treated with such fan-fare shows you just how systemic this problem is.

This is Serie As’ failing. Don’t force players to police the ultras. Take the lead.

Referees must clamp down hard on the new FIFA legislations. Matches must be stopped. Teams must be docked points. It is the only way. Once you start impacting those whose lives and identifies are unhealthily wrapped up in the sports they follow, supporters will begin to police themselves – after a fightback, cries of conspiracy, and likely more harmful rhetoric, unfortunately.

Everyone loves a zero-tolerance until it comes time to show no tolerance. The fact is this: Italian football has shown more effort, gusto, and ruthlessness in rooting out financial irregularities than it has racism. It’s efforts so-far have not been sincere.

Finland instituted a zero-tolerance plan two seasons ago. They have since scrapped two games, mid-game over racist abuse directed at players.

Under FIFA’s rules, there’s a three-step protocol that referees can use to tackle racism from supporters. They can first pause the match and request a public announcement to insist that racist behaviour cease. If this has no effect, the referee can then suspend play; but if the racism continues the referee can abandon the match completely.

The rules are clear. If a referee is unable or unwilling to enact those rules, he or she is not fit for purpose. That is the job. And it falls on the Italian F.A and Serie A to supply them with the requisite support or protection or whatever they feel they need to be able to carry out those actions.

Fines are not enough anymore. Armbands are not enough. Media campaigns are not enough. They do nothing to move the needle on these cave dwellers. Fines don’t hit their pockets. Armbands and viral videos don’t halt games.

Serie A has allowed this to go on for too long. They are complicit. If they want to become a global league akin to the Premier League, seemingly the goal of all of Europe’s top leagues outside of Germany, you cannot have non-white players and fans feeling uncomfortable or unwelcome or even threatened, simply by tuning into your game or donning your kit.

If you want to become a global powerhouse, take charge. Ban whole fan-bases. It’s a few bad apples, supporters will cry. Tough. Broadcast rights are more important to the bottom line of most clubs than the matchday income of supporters these days. Even if it’s not, if that’s a club’s fan-base and they are not rooting it out themselves, let them sink. Flex that power. Use your leverage to root evil out of the game.

There is no excuse. Every team has security cameras. Everyone in the stadium has a smartphone. Finding these offenders is not difficult.

Ban them. And if they circumvent the ban, shut down the stadium for a game.

But they won’t. Because actions are hard, words of support are easy. And in six months you will be reading this same, tired column. And you’ll be feeling the same angry, tired thoughts.

It is an exhausting fight. But it is one that’s worth that is forever worth fighting. If shame won’t drive the cesspool away, money, empty stands, and even demotions must.


Update: Inter’s ultras secreted one of the worst statement’s possible out from under their rock. It was offensive, and not worth repeating. Instead, read this from one our readers.

As for this community, I have seen it stick together through all the tough times over the past few years, and be exceptionally well run through all the site manager changes. There’s a lot of folks here who care about the club, and we can do something here. We do have a voice, and we don’t just have to be armchair Social Justice Warriors.

Here’s a start. Here’s a link to the odious post from the Curva Nord ultras supporting the racists in Cagliari: https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=456353724964579&id=377678756165410. Please report this post as Hate Speech – Race or Ethnicity. If you are not sure how to do this, check out the linked screenshot: https://imgur.com/a/o8Pkao8. As someone that works at a social network company, I know that this gets taken seriously.