by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar January 1st 2007
“The regulations [to deal with racist conduct] were there, but it is the primary role of the national associations to tackle the problems that arise in their national football competitions”, says a FIFA spokesperson.
Discipline and Ethics
“The regulations [to deal with racist conduct] were there, but it is the primary role of the national associations to tackle the problems that arise in their national football competitions”, says a FIFA spokesperson. Racist conduct is contrary to both FIFA’s Disciplinary Code and Ethics Code.
The English Football Association could have used these procedures to deal with racist abuse in the heyday of the plague of racism and hooliganism that blighted our game in the 1970s and 80s. So why did it require Samuel Eto’o to force the issue onto the agenda in Spain and Marc Zoro in Italy more than 20 years after the Heysel stadium tragedy shamed the English FA into action?
And why did both the Italian and Spanish Football Federations tolerate racist abuse for so long? While Eto’o is clearly the higher profile player, the abuse that Zoro has suffered persistently over a longer period raises the question of why the racism that he has suffered and his stand against it was not enough to get FIFA to announce that it would get tough with racists in football earlier.
Racism in football was a scandal that had disgraced the sport for too long – far too long – and now the governing bodies of both European and world football would demand action. National Federations could no longer ignore the issue. If they tried to do so, both they and the clubs could be punished. Previously the racists had been answered by black players with their talent.
Now, thanks to Zoro and Eto’o it was clear that they were prepared to vote with their feet if necessary. Rule 55 was changed to include stiff penalties for racist conduct and sanctions against those federations who refused to implant the rules. It appeared that there would be no hiding place for the racists. But Sicily was different. According to Sicilians there is no racism in Sicily. We had to investigate.
“Sicily does not have a problem with racism, says Gaetano Mustica. “We are not a racist country.”
The Effect of Rome
Sicily thrived under the Romans. They provided a stability – lacking during the rivalries between the Greek cities and Carthage – that would last more than seven-hundred years. Paganism would be swept aside by Christianity in the early fourth century AD by the Emperor Constantine.
Supporters of the old ways fought tenaciously to suppress the emerging cult as it was seen. Sicily saw the martyrdom of Saints Agatha and Lucia. Before long their martyrdom was vindicated by Constantine. However, tensions persisted. It would not be long before religious conflict would find an outlet in Sicily. But before this the ailing Roman Empire would come to an end.
In the fifth century AD Rome was sacked. It set in motion the events that would destroy the most successful empire the world has ever seen. With Rome no longer in any position to retain its empire, Sicily faced an uncertain future. The Barbarians that ended the Roman Empire took control of Sicily. The Vandals gave way to the Ostragoths.
And in 535 the Byzantine Emperor Justinian sent a mercenary army under the command of Belisarius to drive the Barbarians out. The Byzantines faced little resistance. Churches were built including in both Palermo and nearby Monreale by the Byzantines. Their control of Sicily would last into the ninth century.
The Byzantines repelled many threats including early ones from the Saracens. The first attacks on Sicily began as early as 655. In 827 the final Islamic invasion began. This campaign would get bogged down. Saracen reinforcements arrived in 831. They were met by determined resistance. It took decades to subdue the island. Siracusa fell in 877 and lost its status as capital of Sicily. That honour would pass to Palermo.
Churches were destroyed by the Saracens. Mosques were erected in their place including in Monreale and Palermo. They brought much to Sicily that would have a lasting impact. Theron’s pool in Agrigento had been filled in by the Romans and given over to agriculture.
As the Tyrant of Agrigento had previously forced Carthaginian prisoners to dig the drainage system for the city-state the Muslims brought the latest techniques in irrigation. They also brought vegetation to the island – citrus fruits for example. The great pool of Theron became the Kolymbetra garden and was the pride of Agrigento. It still is.
That would not have happened without the agricultural and irrigation expertise that the Arabs brought to Sicily. They also brought exceptional architectural skill to the island – a legacy that outlasted Islamic control of Sicily by centuries. The tensions between Christians and Muslims had led to racist incidents in other countries. Would Sicily be any different?
Racism had reared its head in Spain. Historic tensions between Christians and Muslims resulted in several violent conflicts spread over centuries. In sport these tensions manifested themselves in racist conduct. Monkey-chanting was thought acceptable, but not in Sicily.
Italy had a clear Moorish influence as did Sicily. “Sicily is not a racist country,” says author and B&B owner Gaetano Mustica. “We have had too many foreign influences in our history to be racist. We have incorporated bits of many cultures into our own for over 3000 years”.
As Marc Zoro says, he has been racially abused all over Italy. He describes the north and centre as the worst, but it happens everywhere. And it happens all over Spain too. For too many years it was considered the price that had to be paid by black players if they wanted to make it in Spain.
Italy also ignored the problem for years. But Mustica is adamant that there cannot be a problem with racism in Sicilian football as there is no problem with racism in Sicily as a whole. “Sicily is unique”, he says. “Other countries have been conquered, but none have had as many as us. We have adopted the best of each culture and made them our own. It has made us the people we are.”
Is Mustica right, or is there a problem with racism in Sicily in general or in its football? Are Sicilians ignoring the problem too, or does this enchanting island really not have a problem with racism? The evidence of football at least supports Mustica. Racism came to Messina through supporters of Inter, not from Sicilians.