Napoli fan celebrating their second goal.

Africans As Monkeys: Italian Football’s Racism Problem

This past Wednesday, Lazio fans jeered the 24-year-old French born Senegalese defender Kalidou Koulibaly of the team Napoli with racist insults, prompting officials to suspend the game for three minutes. Lazio was later fined 50,000 Euros for the chants and the closure of the Curva Nord for two games.

The Lazio team manager, Stefano Pioli told Premium Sport, “It was chanting from the minority, but I don’t think they were racist.” He continued, “We also have players of colour and they are treated well.” A line strikingly similar to “but I have a black friend, so I can’t be racist.”

At the club’s training center, Napoli fans expressed support for Koulibaly, hanging a banner that read: “Be proud of your color Koulibaly. You’re a true warrior.”

Meanwhile in Greece, the power football can have to express solidarity and a concern for the plight of others was on display this past Friday. Players, coaches, officials and substitutes sat down on the field for two minutes to bring attention to the refugee crisis. A message was broadcast through the stadium’s PA system, “The administration of AEL, the coaches and the players will observe two minutes of silence just after the start of the match in memory of the hundreds of children who continue to lose their lives every day in the Aegean due to the brutal indifference of the EU and Turkey.”

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Greek players stage a sit-down to protest the handling of the migrant crisis.

The incident at the Lazio vs. Napoli game is nothing new. Italian Football has been stage to unrelenting racism, usually directed at African players, and almost always evoking a pathetically tired monkey comparison.

Carlo Tavecchio in July of 2014, conjuring up a fictitious African player said, “Here we get Opti Poba, who previously ate bananas and then suddenly becomes a first-team player…In England, he must demonstrate his curriculum and his pedigree.”

Despite the comments Tavecchio was elected to be the president of the Italian Football Federation receiving only a light slap on the wrist for his remarks, which included a six-month ban from the Union of European Football Associations.

On the field, players like the Ghanaian Kevin-Prince Boateng, and his teammates walked away from a game in January of 2013, when Pro Patria fans imitated monkeys whenever Boateng had possession of the ball.

The racism isn’t confined to football. Italy’s first black cabinet minister, Cecile Kyenge, has had bananas hurled at her and been called an orangutan by Roberto Calderoli, a former Italian senator.

Wednesday’s game ended with Koulibaly’s team Napoli winning the game two to zero.

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