by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar January 1st 2007
“Under the FIFA Disciplinary Code and the FIFA Code of Ethics, severe sanctions could already be applied by the relevant national association not only in 2004, but before then”, says a FIFA spokesperson.
Like Samuel Eto’o, Marc Zoro was persuaded to finish the match after being subjected to persistent monkey-chanting. Unlike Eto’o who was jeered even more fiercely by Zaragoza’s racists, Zoro’s decision to carry on playing was applauded by Messina’s fans. Even Inter fans joined in. It was clear that the tide was turning against racism in football – in Italy at least.
And football’s governing bodies – FIFA and UEFA – were about to wake up from their long slumber. They would belatedly get tough with the racism that has disgraced the sport. However, it is scandalous that it had to be prompted to do so by the courageous acts of those on the receiving end decades after black players in Britain answered the racists in their midst with their talent. That Eto’o and Zoro would have to shame football into acting against racism in the 21st century is scandalous to put it mildly.
“Under the FIFA Disciplinary Code and the FIFA Code of Ethics, severe sanctions could already be applied by the relevant national association not only in 2004, but before then”, said a FIFA spokesperson.
Zoro had complained of racism in Italian football both before and after the infamous incident at the Santiago Bernabeu in November 2004. Spain had been castigated, especially by British media. So what about Italy? In the 2005-06 season Zoro forced the Italian Football Federation to act. There had been complaints both before and since Zoro’s stand. How had Italian football dealt with the issue?
Like Spain the fine imposed on Internazionale of Milan was paltry. Lazio is a serial offender, but the sanctions the Rome club have faced have been worthless. Lazio legend Paolo di Canio openly flaunts his fascist beliefs. Its Ultras have overtly fascist beliefs – hero-worshipping the executed dictator Benito Mussolini.
They even tried criminal means to take control of the club by threatening the President of Lazio, Claudio Lotito – that resulted in arrests. The Ultras claimed that all they were guilty of was loving Lazio. Finally the Rome club’s supporters decided that the Ultras had gone too far and chanted ‘imbeciles’ at them.
Yet the racism of the Ultras does not seem to have caused similar offence. Black players have been subjected to persistent abuse. Zoro claims that its supporters are the worst he has ever encountered. Was he alone? Born in the Ivory Coast – Zoro’s country –Christian Manfredi has been subjected to monkey-chanting in the Olympic stadium in Rome repeatedly.
He plays for Lazio. Consequently, the racist so-called supporters of the Rome club draw no distinction between black players playing for their opponents or even their own team. So how did the Italian Football Federation deal with all this racism? And did it occur in Sicily?
“The regulations 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.
The Italian Football Federation dealt with the previous incidents of racism experienced by Zoro by imposing ineffective fines. Other players were racially abused as well, which led to yet more paltry fines. It did not work in Spain, even when the fines were raised following intervention from the Spanish government.
Why would Italy be any different? Too many shared the opinion of Marco Materazzi who accused Zoro of ‘just trying to make a name for himself’. It was just part of the game. He gets monkey-chanted because he reacts to it. These are just excuses to not only do nothing, but blame the victim for being persecuted.
The monkey-chanting and peanut-throwing at Eto’o was a defining moment for racism in football in Spain. He had challenged the notion that talented black players would just put up with racist abuse. Eto’o answered the racists with his talent, but he also made it clear that unless something was done it Spain would lose black talent.
Zoro had already done the same in Italy. The Spanish Federation ignored the threat completely, but its government did not. Fines were raised and the Anti-Violence Commission could report incidents reported to it. The Federation was therefore forced to act.
The Italian Federation decided to make a gesture showing solidarity with Zoro. It began by delaying the start of all matches in Serie A the week after Inter fans racially abused Zoro by five minutes. This was a small gesture to express solidarity with black players.
There were others such as Treviso players blackening their faces after Treviso’s racists had shamed the club that were ill-thought out, but born of a desire to confront racism. More concerted action was required and it would be forthcoming – eventually. But there was an important issue that was not and has not been resolved.