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Racism Wins Again



Everyone is talking about how Milan’s Champions League dreams are on life support. Or how Gattuso’s time is up. But last week, two of our best warriors were racially abused. Well for more than just once, actually. And after all of that abuse, the FIGC handed down a suspended sentence of only a partial stadium ban to Lazio. Meaning that if fans behave themselves for 12 months, nothing at all will happen to them. Nothing. In 2019, our players and team got fined a total of €86,000 for holding up an opposition player’s shirt, but fans racially abusing two human beings get nothing. It’s beyond disgusting. And, in Italy, racism rules again.

Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore

Those familiar with Serie A know a couple of things about racism: it is never punished like any other infraction, and certain teams are guilty of it more often than others. One of the reasons it is not punished appropriately is that the very rules are written for failure. Although UEFA’s three step policy to combat racism within the game includes the referee stopping a match, the FIGC rules say the referee cannot stop the game, the Serie A officials have to. Which is really weird, because outside of racist chanting, the referee has final say on every other aspect of the game. The referee can literally stop the game for weather and acts of god, but apparently, not racism.

Additionally, although violent or other incidents are retroactively punishable with video evidence, racism is not. In order for a punishment to be applied, the racism must be witnessed by league officials during the match. So, following our Coppa Italia Semifinal second leg against Lazio, for example, Milan identified 32 instances of racial abuse within the game itself using video and photographic evidence. It was very audible throughout the broadcast, even over the 62,000 Milan fans who were there, yet both the ref and fourth official claim to have not heard or seen a thing. Thirty-two. In one game. And that may not even be including all of the abuse before and after the match, either.

"I did not hear the Lazio fans singing 'This banana is for you Bakayoko'"

In addition to the chants during the Coppa match, which all of the Milan players acknowledge that “everyone heard,” video clips surfaced and some even went viral of Lazio fans chanting racist chants against Bakayoko at Lazio’s Serie A matches against Udinese and Chievo that week, too. Also Inter fans chanting at their match that week, since their clubs are “twinned.” There were chants from fans before they entered the stadium, and the rules indicate that they should not have been allowed to enter the stadium. Yet they were allowed in and continued to sing. However, none of that is punishable because the league officials claim they didn’t hear it during the match. Milan sent their video evidence to CONI, and I am hoping that they get FIFA, UEFA, and FIFPro (the world players union) involved as well. But any involvement unlikely to change much in Italy, unless they implement financial or disciplinary measures. I am not even sure they can do much, really. Each nation and league have the right to govern themselves, at least to an extent.

Another ridiculous rule in Italy that only applies to racism is that a certain percentage of fans must be participating in order for them to actually implement their weak version of UEFA’s three-step plan to combat racism. And while in this instance, the FIGC’s Disciplinary Committee report documents that 90% of the Lazio fans were participating in the racist chanting (which is considerably more than the required amount for discipline,) Lazio only received a suspended sentence for a partial stadium ban.

Nothing ever changes

Maybe the FIGC are trying baby steps with Lazio, whose owner, Claudio Lotito, has said racist, sexist, and other bigoted things himself publicly and might not even understand what his fans did wrong. Teams like Juve, who only a few years back had fans chanting racist things about Mario Balotelli when he wasn’t even there, even at youth games, have worked very hard to at least have fewer racist incidents. They have banned lots of fans for life from their stadium, and while there always seem to be more, their frequency of incidents does seem to have actually dropped. Lotito and Lazio, however have made racism business as usual. In fact, they never publicly apologized for their fans’ behavior, or even condemned it. Rather they complained about the media blowing this out of proportion and pointed out that this was not representative of their club’s beliefs nor all of their fans. Yeah, just 90%.

Because this was the Coppa Italia semifinal, we knew that they were not going to give Lazio a stadium closure for the final. That’s bad for football. Italians seem to be the only ones who don’t realize that racism is also bad for football in 2019. In civilized countries, it is frowned upon, to say the least. Some of their rules indicate that they are aware. For example, a fan can be banned from the stadium for life for racist behaviors. But to do that, the rules would have to be enforced. And although that rule exists, it is a hundred times more likely that a player will suffer racial abuse than a fan be removed from the stadium or banned. Wait, a hundred times is much too low.

Banners and signs will solve the problem, right?

Consider a couple of the high profile events of just this year, when Koulibaly was abused by Inter fans, for example. He lost his temper and ended up serving a two match ban, which was highly criticized by many outside agencies. While Inter did serve stadium bans for this, when they abused Kessie during the Derby, they were also given only a suspended sentence. The concept of stadium bans is that they should increase as the behaviors increase, thus resolving the problem one way or the other. But not in Italy. Once a ban has been served, apparently, they wipe the slate clean and start over. Which is why clubs like Inter and Lazio are allowed to be such repeat offenders. It’s truly disgusting.

But the most disgusting thing, and the thing that gets lost in all of the discussion, is the brutality and reality of racism itself upon our players. For a sport that holds athletes to higher moral code, not just because they are paid well, but also because they are public figures, Italy completely throws players of color under the bus. No one acknowledges how damaging it is for one member of a team to be singled out and abused by thousands of fans while trying to be part of a team and play like everyone else. Racism is wrong because it literally takes power away from the individual. They are condemned for something they have no control over, and once it happens in public, it cannot be taken back.It is incredibly damaging when certain players are punished more severely than other players, such as in Koulibaly’s case, or when Kessie & Bakayoko were fined for holding up a shirt. Some people claim that they “just can’t win.” However, with racism, it’s actually true. Players subjected to racial abuse literally cannot win. And when that happens, we all lose.

In response to racism in Spain, the Prime Minister & Italy NT coach ate a banana in solidarity with Dani Alves

The only winner in all of this is racism. Racism is alive and well in Italy. Whether it was Moise Kean’s teammate condemning him for something most players do, because he was doing it in response to racial abuse, his teammate told him it was wrong instead of standing with him or doing something to get the abuse to stop. Koulibaly was punished excessively for something that likely never would have happened if he hadn’t been abused. Bakayoko and Kessie have received excessive media attention for all of the wrong reasons this year, most of it because fans singled them out for the color of their skin. These are our players. They represent our shirt. They bleed for us the same as all of the other players, but no one seems to care. This is Italy’s dirty not-so-little secret. No one cares that the people in charge have made racist statements themselves. Because this is not a problem anyone in power, or even enough people not in power want to solve. Until they do, racism will always win.


This post inspired by the music of They Might Be Giants’ “Your Racist Friend”


Our next match is
Serie A Week 35
Milan vs. Bologna
Monday, May 6 • 20:30 CEST (2:30pm EDT)