Italian national Football team
MILAN - At the end of a football game last month in Forte dei Marmi, a coastal town in Italy’s Tuscany, an 11-year-old striker playing with AC Milan’s youth team walked off the field in tears. He wasn’t sad about the score: His team had just crushed France’s Paris Saint Germain, 4-0, moving on to the semifinals of a 48-team youth tournament.
The boy was crying because the parents attending the tournament had hurled racist insults at him and his four black teammates.
Italian football is popular all over the world, and the national team playing the game called soccer in the U.S. is tied with Germany for the most World Cup victories, trailing only Brazil. But in Italy the sport has an ugly side that distinguishes it among other European nations: the blatant racism displayed by many fans, players and coaches.
Episodes such as the one in Forte dei Marmi, and recent instances of racist statements by top figures in Italian football, are an alarming signal that while overt racist episodes in the sport are on the decline in other parts of Europe, the problem may only be getting worse in Italy.
Experts say football may reflect the persistence of racism in Italy, where episodes such as the racist heckles directed at Cecile Kyenge, the first black cabinet minister in the country’s history, are commonplace. She has been compared with an orangutan by a national politician and had bananas thrown at her.
“In the last two or three years, we had a higher number of racist episodes in youth tournaments, ” said Mauro Valeri, a professor of sociology of ethnic relations at La Sapienza University in Rome who works with the government’s National Office Against Racial Discrimination.
After all, this is a country where fans of the national team routinely heckle their own star striker Mario Balotelli by chanting while he is on the field, “There’s no such a thing as an Italian n-.” In addition to being offensive, these comments also ignore the growing number of black players growing up in Italy. Balotelli is an Italian citizen, born to Ghanaian parents in Sicily and adopted at a young age by an Italian family from Brescia. He speaks with a distinct Northern Italian accent.
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