Martha asked, on the Italy Offside blog, about why racism in calcio is not met with more stringent measures.
There are some very good responses to her post, and if you have a thought, I hope you'll contribute to the discussion. I have removed to the fastness of the Angry Nunnery thinking,as you sometimes will, about the why of her why-not question. To me the problem of racism in Italian football is agonising because it seems, from this distance, to be so possible to deal with. Lilian Thuram once spoke, in an interview, of his experience playing for Parma around the turn of the century.
'It was at a Parma-Milan match,' he says, 'when our Parma fans were chanting racist slogans against Ibrahim Ba and George Weah [both Milan players] that I thought how sick this was. The press officer tried to stop me, but I went to see the fans at our training ground and told them what I thought. The next week there was an apologetic banner at the match saying, "Thuram, respect us please!"
Of course, times have changed since then, and ignorance and naivete have never been poorer excuses for bad behaviour than they are ten years on, but I don't feel like the example of Thuram goes amiss. As urbane lefties and football fans, we all know that racism can come from anywhere, and yet the average racial abuser in the imagination of an average liberal footie enthusiast has a particular profile; he is white, male, often young, usually unemployed, or disenfranchised in some way [and usually, especially if you're from outside Italy, in a Lazio jersey. Poor Lazio]. The sort of guy who feels safe in a mob. Who will duck and cower if you confront him. Accurate? Maybe, maybe not. Has anyone ever tried a confrontation, though? Not from behind a desk or a truncheon, but face-to-face, like Lilian Thuram with his home crowd?
I feel that an initiative for change needs to be sustained with emotion and spontaneity, rather than as an institutionalised campaign. We know now that stadium violence in Italy is linked to a deep frustration with the failure of social institutions, and to me, a socety in which offenders are traditionally suspicious of their government, their media, and their footballing establishment is not one in which the stadium ban, the fine, the police clampdown, and the multicoloured wristband, can achieve much more than isolated success. Perhaps this is equally true of England, home of the anti-racism advertising industry, as it is anywhere else. But over the last decade, what the campaigning in England has achieved is the provision of a space in the media where issues of racism and discrimination can and will be foregrounded repeatedly. In November, Juventus fans smuggled a banner into their game against Inter which called Zlatan Ibrahimovic a foul gypsy. The offenders were dealt with near instantly, and the incident reported faithfully and in measured tones by papers like La Gazzetta.
All this can be countenanced; but can you imagine an incident of similar proportions, involving a player of similar stature, meeting with anything like silence in the Premiership? An equivalent in terms of high-profility would be to imagine Arsenal fans racially abusing Cristiano Ronaldo at the Emirates. Young Cristiano is not given to dignified silence on most days, but even were he so, do you imagine a day would have passed before the media, the FA and the club insisted on his lodging a vocal protest? And yet, apart from a short statement by Javier Zanetti in the post-match conference, the Juve case received no personal attention from anyone. To the best of my knowledge, Zlatan's own response to this demeaning abuse is yet to be recorded.
Which is fine; the man has the right to stay quiet, or simply decide that he doesn't give a damn, if that's what it is. The FIGC seems to be doing a better job than in previous years of making sure such incidents do not go unpunished. But the ossification of the chain of incidents into the Isolated Racist Behaviour and the They Are Not Real Football Fans [and therefore not our responsibility?] matched set of administrative platitudes, served up with a We Have It Under Control assurance, is not what Italian football needs. It needs leadership and conviction. It needs its footballers to march up to the sidelines and demand what the fuck fans think they're doing. It requires, instead of corporate social responsibility-fulfilling TV spots, the sight of a football team -- or perhaps both football teams -- refusing to continue a match until an abusive chant is silenced. In a world where the institution is the enemy, something like popular revolution is still possible. One Marco Zoro may have been a lone voice in a storm. But four or five, acting with intent, will do much better.
I would also like to talk about guilt and how its absence plays a large part in attitudes to racism in sport. I am thinking of this, not just in relation to England [and Italy], but to India and our knee-jerk defensiveness at having Harbhajan Singh accused of racist abuse during the last Test at Sydney. We live in an incredibly divided society, and almost all of us suffer from a lack of privilege to various extents. But you would be hard-pressed to find too many of us to sympathise with Andrew Symonds for being allegedly trodden, however briefly, under the jackboot of racial oppression. Part of this may have to do with the sheer ludicrousness of said jackboot belonging to a man several shades darker than he. But I also think that our discourse about race and colour, in this country, has absolutely no place in it for guilt. Indian society is casually referred to as among the most racist in the world, but there is almost no way to put the matter in perspective against the backdrop of our recent history, one in which even the most privileged Indians, until sixty years ago, were enslaved by Empire. I think liberal attitudes in England about racial discrimination have been informed incredibly heavily by the weight of their part in this history, which accounts for both the backlash against immigrants [and the immigration phenomenon itself, in the first place] and the development of racial sensitivity. Perhaps a similar path can be traced down the history of the United States.
It's really frustrating to some people that this sort of thing puts them in a Catch-22 situation. As I said in my last post, not only do they have to deal with racism -- a problem with which their own relationship is unique -- but also with racial sensitivity, in a framework that is dictated to them by people on practically the opposite end of the spectrum. I resent this. If anyone asked me whether I detected a smack of real racism in the backlash against Harbhajan and the BCCI's bumbling attempts to bully the international cricket fraternity into placing him above suspicion, I would say, having first clarified that I think the BCCI are criminally stupid and that Bhajji, if he did call Symonds a monkey, deserves no softening of blows, that I did.
I will go out on a limb and say that perhaps football in Italy grapples with some of the same problems in its own mediation with race issues. I mulled in an earlier post over how hooliganism in Italy is in not comparable to the English situation of old, and how pointless it is for the English-led international media to tar Roman ultras and the protagonists of Hillsborough and Heysel with the same brush. It's the same with the issue of racism. Italy is not a post-Colonial nation, but it is a country with enough experience on being at the receiving end of racism and discrimination against its emigrant populations to retain, perhaps, some of the confusion and victim-mentality of the mindset in India. It is an absolute truth to say that there are no excuses for racism. But it's much, much easier for some people to say it than others, and it's counter-productive to ignore that.
That dormancy of the guilt of privilege is why I think force of personality will succeed, in the sporting arena, even if change takes time to percolate through society itself. Part of the reason the Bhajji-Symonds fracas put so many backs up among us is that we were, of course, convinced that in the final reckoning, it came down to the word of two brown men against the representatives of a white team, and the white guys won out. One of those brown men was Sachin Tendulkar, who categorically stated that Harbhajan was not guilty of racial abuse. We were all enraged by the cricketing system's implication that Tendulkar would tell anything but the truth. But imagine if, in a different situation, Sachin Tendulkar had made it a matter of principle to say the opposite. There would be a few people who would be outraged at the thought of India's icon going against his own people to snitch on his teammate. But most of us, perhaps, would have found it easier to accept the lack of excuses afforded to us.
If Alessandro del Piero had made it a matter of principle to take a moment out of the Derby dell' Italia to protest a racist banner, perhaps it would have been easier to set the ball rolling.
I hope this wasn't too upsetting to read, if you have come to the end of it; I do not usually go to footie blogs expecting to find wrung-out spins on postcolonialism in my reading matter,especially when they're written mostly in qualifying clauses instead of actual sentences. But it was either this or something on Milan finally winning a game at home, and sorry, but no. I can't find anything to say about Pato. The loss is no doubt all mine, but nothing in the world has yet induced me to find seventeen year old boys remotely interesting. So I will just say RONIE IS BACK, BITCHES! in presumptuous glee, and leave the rest to the imagination.