By Mark Baber
Italy’s first black government minister Cécile Kyenge has likened the racism she has received – she recently had bananas thrown at her – to the racism that Mario Balotelli has received, saying that “a multi-ethnic nation is both inevitable and natural.”
Kyenge said: “After all, what happens to me also happened to Mario Balotelli. When he was an Italian player among others, and especially when he played overseas, it was accepted, so to speak. And then he began to represent Italy, to play for the national team, scoring points to win. This is where some felt threatened. “
“It’s a bit like what happened to me when I became minister. All comes down to the fear of diversity, which is why we must change the way we present and show the diversity as it really is. “
Racism in Italy has a far wider context than the monkey chants of supporters at games, though it is football that catches the headlines and raise the international profile and depth of the problem Italy has.
In recent days, bananas have been thrown at Kyenge, while Dolores Valandro of the Northern League has said Kyenge, an eye surgeon who was elected in February and who serves as Minister for Integration, should be raped. According to the Corriere della Sera, Roberto Calderoli, the Northern League’s vice-president in the Senate said; “I love animals – bears and wolves, as is known – but when I see the pictures of Kyenge I cannot but think of the features of an orangutan, even if I’m not saying she is one.”
Commentators have pointed to special factors for a pervasive racism in Italy, including a generally insular, provincial society, a sharp rise in the number of immigrants since the 1990s and the legacy of Mussolini’s fascism. Kyenge herself says “Racism is exacerbated by the economic crisis, fear, insecurity, and the idea that diversity is not something rewarding for the culture.”
Kyenge tweeted, when confronted with the incitement by Valandro: “This type of language is beyond me because it incites violence, and it tries to incite violence by the general public” and “it should be offensive to all Italians.”
Kevin Constant’s walk-off in AC Milan’s recent friendly match against Sassuolo again focused attention on the issue of Italian racism, an issue FIFA is determined to tackle at its roots. Whilst FIFA says it is “monitoring the situation and awaiting the result of the investigation launched by the Italian FA,” it is clear this is an issue where the governing authorities expect football to play a major role.
FIFA are standing by the statement of the FIFA President who said, following the incident involving Kevin Prince Boateng in January, that “if a player walks off the pitch because he has been racially abused, it is a strong and courageous signal, but it cannot be the solution in the long term. We have to find other sustainable solutions to tackle the problem at its roots.”
FIFA have made their position on the issue of racism unequivocally clear, saying:
“There is no place in football for racism or for any form of discrimination. This is clearly described in the FIFA Statutes.
The FIFA Congress recently approved a resolution with a new set of sanctions in cases of racism that includes point deductions, expulsion from a competition or relegation for reoffenders or for serious incidents.”
The resolution was further developed in a circular which was sent to all national associations reminding them that the sanctions provided for in the FIFA Disciplinary Code are mandatory for all member associations and must be incorporated, without exception, in their own regulations. In this circular FIFA also emphasise that the member associations are requested to take the appropriate steps to include in their own regulations in the near future the two-stage approach foreseen by the resolution:
• For a first or minor offence, the sanctions of a warning, a fine and/or the playing of a match behind closed doors shall be applied.
• For reoffenders or for serious incidents, sanctions such as point deductions, expulsion from a competition or relegation should be applied.”
The effort to defeat racism will likely need more than just FIFA or the Italian government, but FIFA have clearly indicated they are up for the battle and football intends to be part of the solution.