Problems with Italian football and its culture of racism amid Romelu Lukaku abuse

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Romelu Lukaku was racially abused by football fans inside the Sardegna Arena, as the Inter forward stepped up to take a match-winning penalty against Cagliari.

Prior to the Belgian international tucking away the spot-kick, some supporters attempted to taunt Lukaku by emulating noises that a monkey would make.

It’s obviously disgusting behaviour, and the people who committed the act should be given a swift stadium ban (at the very least), but this isn’t an isolated incident for Italian football.

Apparent Cagliari fans have been caught abusing black players every season for three years on the bounce. As reported by the BBC, in 2017, it was Sulley Muntari; in 2018, it was Blaise Matuidi and in 2019, it’s Moise Kean and Lukaku.

And that’s not to say other clubs’ fans don’t partake in the vile acts, but it simply shows that Serie A clubs, and their governing bodies, aren’t doing enough to deal with racism in football.

In 2013, as per the Telegraph, Kevin Prince-Boateng, and his AC Milan team-mates, walked off the pitch early in a friendly match against Pro Patria after enduring racial abuse from fans of the latter.

In 2014, bananas were thrown at Kevin Constant and Nigel de Jong by Atalanta fans during a game. As reported by the BBC, the Nerazzurri were later fined €40,000.

In the same year, as per the Guardian, the Italian FA president Carlo Tavecchio was banned by UEFA and FIFA for allegedly referring to fictitious footballer ‘Opti Poba’ as a banana-eater.

What has happened to Lukaku is shameful, but it’s unfortunately the latest heinous act from football fans in a country that doesn’t do enough to protect its black players.

The Belgian forward issued a statement on social media which pleaded to governing bodies of football all over the world to react strongly on all cases of discrimination.

He also suggested that social media platforms – Instagram, Twitter and Facebook – need to work more effectively with football clubs to quash online racial abuse.

It didn’t take too long before Cagliari issued a statement of their own regarding the incident, but it was disappointing what they chose to focus on.

The statement, which you can read here, first addressed the club’s solidarity with Lukaku and that they are going to work to find who was responsible for the abuse.

But it’s the second half of the statement that made whatever else they said farcical – Cagliari chose to “firmly reject the outrageous charge and silly stereotypes addressed to [our supporters] and the Sardinian people“.

Amici, I don’t think that’s the main issue. The club would naturally be defensive to accusations that all their fans are racists, but I don’t think anyone was claiming as much.

It’s the 21st century and anybody that puts value in the colour of someone’s skin equates to nothing more than the scum laying on top of a stagnant pond.

Enter Inter’s Curva Nord – the ‘ultras’ of the Serie A club posted a letter they had sent to Lukaku onto their Facebook page about the abuse he was victim to.

I’m not going to share the whole thing with you, but here are the five worst lines I read:

  • You have to understand that Italy is not like many other European countries where racism is a real problem.”
  • We understand that it could have seemed racist to you, but it is not like that.”
  • In Italy we use some ways only to help our teams, and try to make our opponents nervous, not for racism.”
  • We are not racist and [neither] are the Cagliari fans.”
  • We are a multi-ethnic organisation and have always welcomed players from everywhere.”

With apparent supporters like that, who needs enemies? The Curva Nord are out of line with their statement, as they basically defend their non-existent right to racially abuse opposition players.

Moving forward, we need to see football clubs standing up to those who discriminate. Anybody found abusing anyone else should be struck with a heavy hand – I’m thinking a stadium ban, hit them where it hurts.

Recently, as reported by the Liverpool Echo, a 32-year-old man was given 200 hours of unpaid community service for discriminating against Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah, and it’s that kind of retaliation that will help.

If clubs aren’t pro-active in quashing this kind of behaviour, governing bodies, such as Lega Serie A, UEFA and FIFA, need to get involved to make sure it’s not swept under the rug.

Any club found not doing enough should be stung with a hefty fine, and repeat offenders should be deducted points, forced to play fixtures behind closed doors and thrown out of competitions.

It is only when consequences become real that we may see a dramatic change in this behaviour; football fans need to know that discrimination – of any kind – will not be tolerated.


UPDATE: Serie A have confirmed that Cagliari will not face any punishment.

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