Italian football sanctions AC Milan over fan insensitivity

The Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio (FIGC), the governing body of football in Italy, just broke bad on AC Milan over its supporters abusive behavior. Gab Marcotti at ESPN FC explains.

The Italian FA charged Milan for the fact that some of their fans engaged in racist abuse during Sunday night’s match against Napoli. In accordance with the regulations, the stand from which the abuse originated (San Siro’s Curva Sud) will be shut for one game. (Individual supporters who are identified can also be charged under separate statutes. Had the abuse been reported as more widespread, Milan could have been forced to play behind closed doors. And had it been noted by the official, the game could have been suspended.)

As you probably know, we’re not fans of racism in football at S&R. Not at all. Nor are our guest posters. So the idea that FIGC is finally getting off its ass and doing something about the appalling behavior of it fan base is welcome news.

Except, well, except that this isn’t exactly what’s happening here after all. Marcotti continues:

But here’s the thing. Of the 14 Napoli players who played that day, 13 were Caucasian. The other, Juan Camilo Zuniga, is mixed race. And he wasn’t being targeted. In fact, the songs had nothing to do with race as in skin color. They were all about Naples and Neapolitans. And apart from striker Lorenzo Insigne, none of the players were from Naples.

The song in question talked about Naples being dirty, about Neapolitans not using soap, having cholera and stinking to high heaven. Another chant implored Mount Vesuvius to erupt and clean up Naples, presumably by killing all the Neapolitans.

It’s offensive and tasteless, sure. But is it the kind of thing that should be barred from football stadiums?

Let’s venture a bit deeper into the weeds, shall we?

The Italian FA is not just taking its cue from UEFA’s new disciplinary code and specifically Article 14 (PDF), which deals with “racism, discriminatory conduct and propaganda.” And in doing so, it’s basically acting as a test case for possible future legislation.

Article 14 punishes those who “insult the human dignity of a person or group of persons by whatever means, including on the grounds of skin color, race, religion or ethnic origin.” Read it closely and you’ll see that while racism, ethnic abuse and sectarian abuse are specifically mentioned, it’s actually about insulting the “human dignity” of a group or individual. That can easily include other forms of discriminatory abuse, such as homophobic abuse.

But what they’ve done in Italy is to specify what constitutes an insult to “human dignity” and, unlike UEFA, they specifically cite (in addition to sexuality) territorial origin.

Ummm. Listen, I’m all for dropping the hammer on racism. But…this isn’t racism, is it? Is it legitimately “ethnic abuse”? Well, if you dig into Italian history, yeah, the South and the North have somewhat different ethnic histories, sort of. Of course, the diffs probably aren’t as pronounced as the gap you’d find between the North End in Boston and the cracker neighborhood I grew up in.

I don’t know. I’m ambivalent here. There can be fine lines in cases like this, and I won’t deny that sometimes Northern Italians speak about their Southern countrymen in ways that feel a bit like racism. Still, I’m not at all sure that FIGC hasn’t overreached.

Part of me says lighten up – this is basic smack talk. It’s often insensitive, I suppose, but are we going to ban fans for hurting the feelings of their opponents? (Read the rest of the article – Marcotti is on his game here.)

This one troubles me, not the least because I have earned a rep as an accomplished purveyor of the trash myself. And my beloved Rocky Mountain Blues have been known to sings songs that are, ummm, potentially hurtful. For instance, we hate the Scousers (Liverpool FC), and the article notes a certain cultural stereotype pertaining to property crime. We like to sing this one, to the tune of “You Are My Sunshine”:

You are a scouser
A dirty scouser
You’re only happy on Giro Day
Your mum’s out thieving
Your’s dad’s drug dealing
Please don’t take my hubcaps away…

And there’s “In Your Liverpool Slums”:

In your Liverpool slums
You look in a dustbin for something to eat
You find a dead rat and you think it’s a treat
In your Liverpool slums

In your Liverpool slums
Your mum’s on the game and your dad’s in the nick
You can’t get a job ’cause your too fucking thick
In your Liverpool slums

In your Liverpool slums
You wear a shell suit and have got curly hair
All of your kids are in council care
In your Liverpool slums

In your Liverpool slums
There’s piss on the pavement and shit on the path
You finger your grandma and think it’s a laugh
In your Liverpool slums

We also love to sing in honor of Manchester United hero Ryan Giggs. To the tune of “When the Saints Go Marching In”:

Oh Ryan Giggs (oh Ryan Giggs)
Is fucking sheep (is fucking sheep)
Oh Ryan Giggs is fucking sheep
He’s fucking sheep, sheep and more sheep
Oh Ryan Giggs is fucking sheep

This one works equally well for Gareth Bale, or for matter any Welshman with the right number of syllables in his name. The Welsh are whiter than I am – is this racist? Ethnic abuse? Or is it simply nationalistic, tribalistic, etc.? Am I describing a difference that makes no difference?

We even have at our own. Referencing the infamous scandal involving Blues captain John Terry and the girlfriend of former teammate Wayne Bridge, there’s this one to the tune of “London Bridge”:

Mrs. Bridge is going down
Going down
Going down
Mrs. Bridge is going down
On John Terry

Of course, this is personal, not collective. I just wanted to throw it in because it’s my favorite.

Frankly, these are some of the nicer ones. There are lyrics in a few songs I’ve heard that you wouldn’t repeat in a crowd of drunken sailors.

Perhaps you get where I’m going. There’s no excuse whatsoever for racism, but there’s a line, right? It can’t be illegal to be rude, can it? Sure, it’s primitive and juvenile and frankly, we already knew that I’m a terrible human being.

I mean, if you adopted these kinds of rules in the US, that would mean I could no longer point out, when the Broncos are getting ready to play the Raiders, that Oakland is the world’s largest open-air latrine. When the Avs go to play the Devils, I can’t crack that the New Jersey state bird is the housefly. That Nebraska’s football team plays on natural grass so the cheerleaders will have a place to graze. It would probably be hurtful even to snark about what a high percentage of Bengal players wind up in jail.

Or are these things okay because there is no twinge of the ethic about them?

We’ll be watching as things develop in Serie A. Like I say, I applaud any and all efforts to scrub racism from the game. But it would also be a mistake to overcorrect, I think. I’ve had some opposing fans say nasty things to me through the years, and I’d hate to see them punished over a weak-ass attempt at cleverness.

It’s bad enough that their teams suck and their children look like the mailman, don’t you think?

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