Is Sportsmanship Dead?

The ridiculous level of acrimony that developed last season between two clubs who had traditionally been respectfully fierce rivals really made me wonder: Is sportsmanship dead? Particularly when the flames of acrimony were fanned even more by the coaches and management of the two clubs. Of course every club has fans that lack even a shred of human decency, but do some clubs have more than others? Why do fans suddenly feel so entitled to put every other club down when they have won? How can they honestly justify their behavior towards all other clubs when their club was the victim of a witchhunt by a single club and they were punished by a sporting “justice” system? Why are fans then free to act like tremendous douchebags to clubs not even in our league, after they know firsthand what it is like to be persecuted? Is sportsmanship truly dead?

If they can shake hands, we can be civil, too.

I will spare you most of the many, many, MANY events and people who have inspired this post. Sufficeth to say, despite being married to a Juventino, I have lost nearly all respect for most Juventus fans over the past two years. I sat through Calciopoli with my Juventino here. I saw the pain and the body blows to the pride of such a storied club, brought to her knees by a deceitful club and a sporting INjustice system that is possibly more corrupt than the mafia. And though Milan also suffered an insurmountable league points deduction in the same scandal, the opportunity we were given to play in the Champions League that season (which we ultimately won, too,) made that pill much easier to swallow. Additionally, given recent evidence conveniently surfacing after the statute of limitations ran out, it was Milan who should have been relegated to Serie B and never played in the Champions League that fateful season. So I do have empathy for the plight of Juve fans.

But what I don’t understand is how so many of them in good conscience defend their rights to be horrible people in return. Not when the team was struggling, but now, when they are winning. Two wrongs do NOT make a right. And to say that you have carte blanche on being hideous monsters to anyone and everyone now that you are winning… I just don’t even understand that line of reasoning. Seriously, what would Del Piero do? None of us had anything to do with your Calciopoli injustices. Your misplaced anger insults the beautiful game and your beautiful club and its amazing 115 year history. Do you realize the legacy you are creating in the name of your club?

They would never want fans to act like this

I have been told, most often by the Juve fans who are caught behaving badly, that every club has its “2-3 %” of fans that make the rest of them look bad. And yet, Juventus is one of the most heavily fined clubs for fan behavior. Yes, over Roma and Lazio fans. And over those Fiorentina fans with their ever-present Heysel banners. Even Milan this year displayed some horrific Pessotto-themed banners when we hosted Juventus, as well as some Cassano banners not unlike the ones that shocked us from Inter last year. But Juventus more than made up for it with their Superga banners vs. Torino. Combine that with all of their racist chanting, throwing things at referees, and other poor behavior from fans at home and away, and they have been fined at least €79 thousand so far this season. (The next highest amount was Inter, who have been fined at least €45 thousand. Milan have only been fined €12 thousand this season, and only for banners.) Even though Juve is trying to crack down on racism and are giving fans a lifetime stadium ban for these behaviors, there are always more to take their place… an endless supply. Not just 2-3 %.

If you count the fans who are online, the percentage is so very much higher. I have been harassed, insulted, cursed at, trolled, etc. on multiple blogs and on Twitter, and 98% of the time it is Juve fans. Most of the people who have been banned from commenting on this site are Juve fans. One fan even created a new identity and pretended to be a Milan fan, that is the depths these people will sink to. But it wasn’t always this way. On one Juve forum I previously frequented, I was the “classy Milan fan.” I would wish them luck before every match and congratulate or console them afterward. They joked with me and we laughed and cried together in good times and bad. But then Juve started winning. And I was attacked and smeared and insulted and trolled and… you get the picture. When you consider that I went to the Milan derby this year, sat in a section for Inter fans right next to the Curva Nord, wearing my Milan jersey, and we lost… not one Inter fan hassled me, jeered at me, nothing. We were losing for 85+ minutes of that match, and I had to slink past all of their jubilant fans on my way out after having sat amongst them, and not a single fan did so much as give me a condescending look. And yet Juve fans attack me if they win a match. Where has sportsmanship gone? Since when have Inter fans become classier than Juve fans?

A sickeningly tasteless banner from Milan fans 

Typically, it is just the fans who behave badly. But last year saw the coaches and management get involved, too. Which seems to have given the fans more entitlement and justification for their bad behavior, especially our two clubs. But ask yourself, what would the players do? This is not war, it is sport. There is a reason that the players shake hands before and after each match. There is a reason that they are held accountable for unsporting behavior. Don’t you think that they, who are in the thick of every scuffle, every bad ref call, etc., would be disgusted by the way we behave sometimes? They, whose very careers were all directly affected by Calciopoli, etc., yet they do not use this as a justification to behave in subhuman ways. Maybe before we say or do something questionable, we need to ask ourselves “What would (name of your favorite bandiera or captain here) do?” Certainly most of the behaviors I have mentioned would not fall within that list.

And since when has winning become a chance, not just to gloat, but to terrorize and oppress fans of other clubs, even clubs you didn’t just defeat? On the final day of the Champions League group stage, Juventus fans on Twitter were saying horrible things about Chelsea, and also to their fans, who were knocked out of the competition that day. Because Juventus beat Shakhtar 1-0 with an own goal from Shakhtar. Me? I would be grateful to have been gifted the win. But that wasn’t enough. When they should have been celebrating, they were out bullying. Then I visited a Juve blog to survey the damage, and what did I find? At least three Chelsea fans had come by to congratulate the Juve fans. Wow. The disparity in class was mindboggling. And these were Chelsea fans. We know them well. There is no one who can convince me that the faster Juventus climb back up to where they belong, their fans (and not just a minority) have pulled their reputation down equally. I really used to believe they were all classy. But I suppose that view was skewed by the man I live with and a number of friends I have who are the embodiment of class and also Juventus fans.

Juve fans went even lower at their match vs. Torino

I know that I have used mainly Juventus fans as an example, and I do truly believe that there is a mindset that has created a loss of sportsmanship and class over the past two years amongst that club’s fans. But it is also true that the loss of sportsmanship is not unique to any club, and the numbers of fans behaving badly has increased, not only with the increase of social media, but with an increase of poor behavior by players, an increased lack of trust in referees and the sporting “justice” systems, etc. Still, I contend that the individual is greater than the events. That we can return to sporting ways. That all of us can learn to simply appreciate the beauty of a win, of a qualification, or of another success, at least for one day before we smacktalk or indulge in schadenfreude or whatever at the expense of other players, clubs, or fans. That we can self monitor our behaviors and ask ourselves if our heroes on the pitch would be proud of what we say or do in the wake of any event, but especially a win. I want to believe that sportsmanship is not dead. I want to believe that the “gentlemanly” principles that this beautiful game was founded upon still extend to all of us, the fans.

We have all said unkind things, we have all said things that are hurtful or demeaning to other clubs or fans. I know I have. Maybe we can look at the outward things first: are we aggressive or attacking in our words or behavior towards other fans or clubs? A little ribbing, especially at the proper place and time, is fun and has long been a part of the game. But if our remarks are racist, mocking a tragedy, attacking someone, mocking someone for something beyond their control, etc., that is never sporting. Are your words spiteful in the wake of your club’s success? Why aren’t you simply celebrating? I go so far as to try not to use terms like m**da, ladri, rubentus, meelan,  etc. Using insulting terms like this insults your intelligence, and it is far more sporting to be clever and witty than just plain base or stupid.

Example? Acerbi was recognized for outstanding sportsmanship last season

Sadly, I have banned more people, even former friends, than I care to say because they demonstrated behaviors that were not only unsporting but unseemly. I had to learn how to block people on Twitter because they didn’t like that I said they were behaving without class. I have seen the inhuman banners mocking horrible tragedies, and heard the racist chants in the stadiums. We are better than this. We are calcio fans. Our teams and our collective group of fans deserve better than this. If sportsmanship is dead, we can revive it. One fan at a time, we can each make a difference. Let’s save our clubs the money in fines, and save our fellow fans the stress and anxiety caused by bad behavior. Every fan should represent their colors, no club wants to be the one with the bad reputation. Even when other clubs’ fans are attacking, we can rise above it and be classy ourselves. Is sportsmanship dead? You are the answer to that.

This post inspired by two+ years of torment from rival fans
and other acts of indecency within calcio

The Champions League Round of 16 draw is
Thursday, December 20th • 11:30 CET (5:30am EST)

Our next match is
Roma vs. Milan*
Saturday, December 22 • 20:45 CET (2:45 EST)

*Pending the end of the world as predicted by the Mayan calendar

Is Sportsmanship Dead? Is Sportsmanship Dead? Reviewed by Elaine on 12:00 AM Rating: 5
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