Abuse, Heysel, Hillsborough….Where do we draw the line?

The atmosphere will be one of juvenile enthusiasm in the Juventus Stadium on Sunday night with 12,100 children expected to attend the game against Udinese. They will fill the void left by the Ultras after the Italian football association (FIGC) closed both Curva to Juventus fans who were found guilty of discriminatory chanting in their 3-0 win against Napoli last month. This prompted the club to launch the initiative “Gioca Con Me…Tifa Con Me” – “Play with me…Support with me” which has seen the stands opened to children aged 6-13 across the Piedmont region.

Having already written about the issue of territorial discrimination I was interested in Juventus coach Antonio Conte’s comments in his press conference ahead of tonight’s clash.

“There are equally serious incidents that should bring to equally strong sanctions, for example when opposition fans insult the dead at Heysel or Superga,”  

While acknowledging discrimination must be dealt with Conte was keen to point out that other abusive chants often go unpunished.

“These chants (of discrimination) are ugly and should be condemned, but so should insults towards the dead or fans who demolish the inside of stadiums.”

superga air disaster (Photo from deicinginnovations.com)

Superga air disaster which wiped out the Torino team of 1949 (Photo from deicinginnovations.com)

Conte has a point. Where do we draw the line when it comes to the nuances of abusive and discriminatory chants? While the FIGC has become embroiled in their attempts to clamp down on territorial discrimination, chants that abuse or mock football related disasters have slipped under the radar. So if its not Napoli Cholera its Torino Superga. The two Turin clubs have often been on the wrong end of chants which mock both the Superga air crash and the Heysel disaster. In fact Juventus and Torino fans can sometimes be the prime culprits!

The same can be said in England. In recent months we have seen the FA try and clarify some of the ambiguity surrounding the use of the term ‘Yid’. This has seen Tottenham fans defy both the FA and the police. Similar to the stance taken by Italian Ultras on territorial discrimination, many Spurs fans feel it is their right to chant a word which they have coined as a form of identity and defiance against those who taunt them for the clubs links with the Jewish community. It is a complex and emotive issue. Yet this does not mean other abusive chants should be ‘swept under the carpet’.

Liverpool vs. Manchester United is one of England’s most celebrated rivalries. It is a volatile fixture which has at times brought out the demon in rival fans.

Who’s that lying on the ruuunway?Who’s that lying in the snow?It’s Matt Busby and the boys, making all the fucking noise,cause they couldn’t get the aeroplane to go! 

(Liverpool fans vs Manchester United, Munich air disaster)

Ohh, I wish it could be Hillsborough everydaaaaay, where the fans start swinging and the fence begins to swaaaaaay! 
Ohh, I wish it could be hillsborough everydaaaaay,where they rob dead bodies and the fans refuse to paaaaaaay!

(Manchester United fans vs Liverpool, Hillsborough disaster)

Liverpool fans display about Hillsborough (Photo from talkchill.blogspot.com

Liverpool fans choreograph display about Hillsborough (Photo from talkchill.blogspot.com

Two such examples have been chanted in the past by what must be said, is only a minority of Liverpool and Manchester United fans. Nevertheless these are  inhumane chants which, like discrimination, have no place in the game. While we are all in accordance that football’s governing bodies must do their utmost to eradicate racism and discrimination it is important for them not to become blinkered.

When looking at the definition of discrimination these chants do not strictly fall under the blanket of unjust prejudicial treatment of people based on their race, age, sex, gender or faith. However they border on inciting irrational hatred and show a worrying lack of empathy to both the victims and families involved.

This is what Antonio Conte was touching on. While chants in Italy such as “Vesuvio Facci Sognare” – “Vesuvio make us dream” (a reference to Vesuvio volcano erupting and destroying Naples) are labelled discrimination, abusive chants about Superga and Heysel go largely unpunished.

But is there really a difference between the two? If the FIGC are going to enforce draconian punishment on territorial discrimination then they should surely consider similar measures for abusive chants regarding football related disasters. In fact given that territorial discrimination is an issue rooted in Italian history and culture, I’d argue that the FIGC would find it easier to tackle the latter.

This begs a similar question in England. Why have the FA not done more to clamp down on chants regarding Hillsborough and Munich? It is not about prioritising one issue over another, it is about preserving the integrity of the game. There is a fine line when it comes to the raucous voice of the football stadium however taunts aimed at such tragedies overstep this line.

I am by no means suggesting punishment for all abusive chants. It would not only be absurd but it would also detract from the rivalries and sprezzatura which make football atmospheres unique. But is it so ludicrous to suggest that distasteful chants about Heysel, Munich and the like should be given equal scrutiny by footballs governing bodies?

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