This year, Italy’s Serie A adopted the English tradition of holding matches on the day after Christmas, known as Boxing Day, in hopes of showing off its domestic product to the widest possible set of eyeballs. Of course, as the hopefully embarrassed country came to realize, showing off the glories of Italian soccer all too often also means exposing the reprehensible aspects of Italian soccer, like its penchant for obscene fan violence and shockingly crass racism.
This was the case during Serie A’s headlining Boxing Day matchup between Inter and Napoli. Things looked bad before the match even kicked off. In the lead-up to the game, bat-wielding Inter- and Inter-adjacent-supporting turds sought to beat on a collection of traveling Napoli fans for no discernible reason. In the mayhem, one member of the pack of ultras, Daniele Belardinelli, was hit by car. He later died from his injuries. In a separate fight between rival guys who love to take their shirts off and hang out with other shirtless dudes and sing songs together in praise of fit young men who excel at kicking a medium-sized ball around, four Napoli supporters were stabbed. Two Inter ultras have been arrested in relation to the stabbings.
The madness had only begun there. During the match, Napoli’s world-class central defender, Kalidou Koulibaly, was reportedly subject to nearly ceaseless racist taunts from the Inter crowd. Carlo Ancelotti, Napoli’s manager, said after the match that he requested that the match be suspended—as is protocol when a player or team makes the referees aware of fan-based racist attacks—on three separate occasions. Rather than halt the game, someone came over the stadium’s loudspeaker a couple times to kindly ask the fans to stop hurling racial epithets and making monkey noises at the Senegalese man they’d all paid to see play.
Toward the end of the match, Koulibaly was shown two quick yellow cards, one for a foul and a second right after for his sarcastic applause in the face of the ref who’d carded him, and was sent off. The match was tied at 0-0 when Koulibaly exited, and Inter eventually scored a winner in stoppage time. Ancelotti’s frustration with the lack of action taken in light of the racism on display, which had clearly rattled his players, was clear from his postgame remarks:
“Matches can be suspended but we need to know when,” he said. “Is it after the fifth chant, or how many more after that? … Next time we’ll just stop the game ourselves. Even if that means having the result awarded against us.”
Koulibaly addressed the match and the racism he was subjected to with a tweet:
Translation: “I’m sorry for the defeat and especially to have let my brothers down. But I am proud of the color of my skin. Of being French, Senegalese, Neapolitan: a man.”
This kind of racism usually isn’t all that discouraged by Italy’s soccer authorities or by Italian society more generally, evidenced most obviously by the fact that it still happens and no one can get it to stop. However, no doubt because of how high-profile this specific instance of trademark Italian racism was on Boxing Day, the soccer officials actually have done something about it. Italian soccer federation officials announced today that, as punishment for what went on yesterday, Inter will have to play two home games in an empty stadium, with a further third game to be played without any fans in the ultras section. From the federation’s statement:
Italian football federation president Gabriele Gravina said the racist chants and violence outside the stadium were “no longer tolerable”.
“Football is the heritage of true supporters and as such should be defended from all those who use it as a tool to create tension,” he said.
“We condemn all forms of both physical and verbal violence, with the aggravating circumstance of racial discrimination. We do not tolerate such behaviour ruining football.”
FIFA, the group that shuttered its anti-racism task force more than two years ago because it believed the task force had achieved its mission of cleansing the sport of its racist elements, must be absolutely shocked by all this. But maybe Italians are finally getting it? Let’s see....
Welp, maybe next time.