Italian football finally facing up to its demons

Italian football is finally facing up to its demons.

Although the league’s decision to not turn a deaf ear to the racial abuse rained down on Mario Balotelli still falls short of total exorcism of the evil that possesses some of those who populate football stadiums every weekend.

Juventus must play their next home game behind closed doors – but with it being against Lecce will anyone notice the difference anyway?

Fine, it is the first time this measure has been taken in Serie A, although Verona suffered a similar ban for racist abuse of Perugia player Ferdinand Coly during a Serie B game in 2005.

However, such a sanction has been a long time coming and Juventus are only paying the price for what has been an orchestrated blight on the game, not just this season but for many in the past.

Coly: Abused playing for Perugia 

In the 1980s it was regional racism especially directed towards any team south of Rome, then it became anti-Semitic in nature – all greeted, as was subsequent abuse towards black players, with utter indifference.

In the same year that Verona’s fine citizens were doing their bit for multi-cultural harmony, in Messina home player Marc Zoro attempted to have a match against Inter stopped when he could not stand the monkey chants from the away section anymore.

The sight of Adriano and Obafemi Martins racing over to the Ivory Coast defender and dragging him back from the touchline to plead that he did not carry out his threat demonstrated that there was little solidarity for Zoro’s plight.

Zoro: Threatened to halt Inter encounter 

At the time the ever-so pious Massimo Moratti even denied that the noises aimed at Balotelli were in fact racist in origin, although now having obviously had a road to Damascus moment, the aged white gent claimed he would have ordered his team off the pitch in Turin if he had actually been there.

He wasn’t there, so we will never know if that ultimate snub to the miscreants would have ever taken place.

The volume of reaction has swung between acceptance of the problem, which is a start, to blind ignorance.

Take former Inter coach Luigi Simoni, who is of the opinion that if Balotelli showed a bit of respect – haven’t we heard this one-eyed argument before? – then he wouldn’t be called a ‘black son of a …”

Balotelli is 18 and will some day shove the taunts of “black Italians don’t exist” back down his tormentors’ throats when he represents his country, but it seems that the likes of Simoni will always be stuck in the past.

Balotelli: "Talk to the hand..." 

“I didn’t hear any chants aimed at Sulley Muntari [Balotelli’s equally black team-mate],” claimed Simoni, which makes it alright then, as if those involved got together to wage nothing more than some harmless psychological warfare to put the player off his game.

Juve president Giovanni Cobolli Gigli may have apologised for the behaviour and derided those responsible. But when the punishment was no mere slap on the wrist of a few thousand euro, he was launching an appeal and claiming the injustice of it all.

The ante has been upped for everyone now and when, not if, it happens again the next step must be suspending matches to really drive home the message and drown the racists out once and for all.

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