The blight on Italian football

Italian football has missed out on another opportunity to face up to racist behaviour inside one of its grounds.

No surprise really, as the authorities continue to bury their heads in the sand and ignore the chanting that blights games up and down the country every weekend.

A new season and nothing has changed.

Cagliari fans berated Samuel Eto’o for most of Sunday’s match at the Sant’Elia stadium; that was of course until Mario Balotelli made his entrance as a second-half substitute to receive a barrage of what can only be described as imitations of “apes on heat”.

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We’ve been down this regrettable, twisted road before with the Inter teenager, who received similar abuse at Juventus and at his own San Siro stadium from AS Roma followers.

Juve were forced to play a subsequent league game behind closed doors as a punishment of sorts – one finally enforced when they were already out of the title race - while the Roman club received a minuscule fine of eight grand.

Grabbing all the headlines instead was Jose Mourinho’s sending-off in Sardinia for complaining that an opponent should have been booked: the coach was suspended for one game and fined a hefty 15,000 Euro.

At the time of writing, no sanctions have been imposed on the Sardinian club or its fans, but there are laws in place that need to be implemented.

A referee has the power in consultation with the police to suspend play if he feels that there is any chanting of a racist nature.

It’s a heavy burden on any official and especially someone as inexperienced as Sunday’s whistler Daniele Orsato who no doubt didn’t want to become the first whistle-blower on Italian football’s open secret: racism is rife at football grounds.

Nothing will ever change if the likes of Cagliari owner Massimo Cellini launches an impassioned defence of his club’s supporters, claiming that the “jeers” were taken out of context and seeming to blame Balotelli in particular for inciting them.

Speaking from his bolt-hole in Miami, he maintained he hadn’t heard anything untoward on the television, quickly backtracking on further questioning, to add: “It was a small minority and Balotelli is a type of player who attracts attention with his actions.”

Closing stadiums for a game does nothing, but confiscating season-tickets hasn’t been mentioned as a deterrent. Fines have been hopeless, but would docking points change anything?

There are certainly no short-term answers, but there’s always education and awareness.

Both players have so far kept their counsel, although Eto’o once threatened to walk off the pitch at Zaragoza and maybe when he settles in, he will be become a little more outspoken.

In the meantime, the buck will be passed back and forth between the powers that be and match officials until someone decides to take a stand – can we hope that a “Kick it Out” campaign can even begin to find a voice?

In Italy, politics and football are wound together like grapevines on the Tuscan hills: the Prime Minister owns a football team (or a football owner is Prime Minister, depending on your opinion), fans of Livorno still evoke the hammer and sickle and too many others are proud to parade the straight-armed salute.

Only last week, former Inter coach Alberto Zaccheroni was comparing Mourinho to Benito Mussolini – all because the Portuguese took offence to one of his predecessors giving his opinion on how best to defeat Barcelona.

Then, last weekend, there was a minute’s applause at all the stadiums for the six Italian troops killed in Afghanistan – and no doubt there were many inside the Sant’Elia paying their respects, only to spit out their hate for two footballers who happen to be of a different colour.

Says it all about how far football has to travel to play its part in at least dragging the problem out into a wider public domain.

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