12/1/13

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?

11/9/13

Il Calcio: Uniting and Dividing Italy

On Sunday evening 3rd place Juventus will host 2nd place Napoli in what is the most eye-catching game in this round of Serie A fixtures. With both sides tied on 28 points, sitting just three behind a rejuvenated Roma it is an opportunity for either to stake a claim for the Serie A title.

However the fixture is not solely a meeting of two title contenders. It is a meeting of the North and the South. Another illustration of the regional divide that exists in Italy. Just like the Renaissance era – when civic states battled for supremacy on the peninsula – these two bastions of Turin and Naples will renew a territorial rivalry which has its roots in Italian history.

Campanilismo is an Italian word perhaps best translated as fervent local patriotism. It symbolises a sense of identity, a sense of pride and belonging to your place of birth. A feeling which can often be much stronger than any sense of national identity. When introducing their place of origin I have often heard Italians say Sono Vicentino (I’m from Vicenza), Sono Napoletano (I am from Naples) before saying Sono Italiano (I am Italian).

Napoli fans expressing their loyalty to their city. Interestingly the fans have spelled Neapolitan - Napulitan...a mistake the editor puts down to spelling. However it is perhaps a reference to the Italian word Pulire - To Clean. If so it is another example of Napoli fans subversively mocking the discriminatory chants used against them which describe Neapolitan's as people who are dirty and smell . (Photo from http://www.theguardian.com/ taken by Tom Jenkins).

Interestingly the fans have spelled Neapolitan – Napulitan…a misspelling or subversive irony? Pulire is Italian – To Clean. Another example of Napoli fans mocking the discriminatory chants describing them as dirty?? (Photo from http://www.theguardian.com/ taken by Tom Jenkins).

Why?? Just under three years ago Italy celebrated its 150th anniversary of its Risorgimento and its birth as a nation. Compared to England  a unified nation for over a 1000 years  this is no time at all. Like a jigsaw puzzle where the remaining pieces do not quite fit, Italian national identity remains an enigma.

While King Henry VIII waged war on the continent under the English banner, the Italian peninsula was fragmented. Any sense of collective identity was defined by civic pride. Italy as a nation did not exist. Fast forward and some of these underlying divisions remain.

This is exemplified by the North-South divide. So much so that Nicholas Doumanis (author of Inventing the Nation: Italy) claimed that the northern and southern halves of the peninsula appear in social, cultural and economic terms to be two very different countries. To give this context  the regional stereotypes that exist in Italy are to a degree comparable to those in England, albeit in Italy the north is viewed as the ‘prosperous’ half. The comparison stops here, for in England, as far as I am aware, no political party has ever challenged the idea of  a collective English identity.

Lega Nord or Northern League is a regionalist political party which has often attacked the idea of Italian unity by claiming that the south is a burden on the nation. The party’s political programme advocates greater regional autonomy, especially for the North and at times secession of the North altogether.

A Lega Nord slogan: Yes to Polenta (a traditional cuisine from the Veneto area) No to cous cous (a staple food in North African cuisine)

A Lega Nord slogan: Yes to Polenta (a traditional cuisine from the Veneto area) No to cous cous (a staple food in North African cuisine)

Couple this with the view expressed by Gary Armstrong and Alberto Testa (Football Fascism and Fandom: The UltraS of Italian Football) that Il Calcio has constantly mirrored the socio-political environment in Italy and one can begin to grasp the power it possesses, both to unite and divide. It is an issue which has never been more contemporary.

This summer the Italian Football Association (FIGC) decided to apply UEFA’s stadium ban rule (aimed at tackling racist chanting) to what it calls “territorial discrimination”. Low and behold when the fans of AC Milan were found guilty of using derogatory chants, first against Napoli, which led to a closure of the Curva Sud (AC Milan Ultras stronghold), and then against Juventus, which led to the closure of the San Siro (a decision eventually suspended) it caused uproar among supporters across Italy.

Traditionally Napoli fans have been on the receiving end of chants referring to crime, poverty and cholera outbreaks in their city. The following link contains an example of a frequently used chant against Neapolitan’s – http://youtu.be/ZrowkCqT95w  

Translated the chant goes something like this:

Smell the stench, even the dogs are running
The Neapolitans are coming
Infected with cholera, earthquake victims
You have never washed yourselves with soap…
Napoli shit, Napoli cholera
You shame the whole of Italy
Work hard Neapolitan
As you have to bend over (politely put) for Maradona
Diego is shit Diego Diego is shit

However, instead of revelling in a touch of schadenfreude, some of AC Milan’s fiercest rivals, the Ultras of Inter Milan, Juventus and even Napoli voiced support for the Rossoneri’s plight.

With sardonic humor the Napoli fans unveiled a banner at their game against Livorno saying “[We are] Naples cholera-sufferers. Now close our curva!” The Ultras of Juve and Inter then made statements imploring fans across the country to join them in singing those “famous chants of territorial discrimination.”

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(Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images)

AC Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani later said strict rules aimed at tackling racism have been taken to an extreme by the Lega Serie A “I understand that racism is a big problem, a problem in the whole world, but territorial discrimination is something else.”

Long before the arrival of immigrants on Italian shores, regional slurs and stereotypes have been used as insults not just in the stadia but also in day to day Italian life.

So what does this all mean? Perhaps the irony lies in the fact that the Ultras have united in in their fight to discriminate against each other. And therein lies the power of Il Calcio, both to unite and divide elements of Italian society. Supporters across Italy are united in being opposed. Its an oxymoron but it makes perfect sense!

The FIGC introduce tougher sanctions but the supporters continue with their discriminatory chants. And they will go on chanting. For it is embedded in their history. Moreover the Ultras and many others feel it is their right to insult each other.

When another of these historic battles between North and South is enacted at the Juventus Stadium on Sunday night you will be sure to hear those ‘famous’ chants of discrimination. “Napoletani colerosi”, Neapolitan’s – cholera sufferers, Juventini “ladri” – Juventus – thieves in reference to the 2006 Calciopoli scandal.

It is all part of the rough and tumble of the football stadium and it can be viewed as good fun, part of tradition or further evidence for the existence of a fragile national identity. However from one issue arises a multitude of others.

Does the continued practice of territorial discrimination encourage the more extreme elements of Italian society to believe they have the right to actively discriminate. Does territorial discrimination constitute racism? And how is Italian national identity, or lack of, manifested within Il Calcio. These are all questions that warrant further exploration.