On and on it goes. A racist incident at an Italian soccer game. A denial. An explanation that it isn’t, in fact, racism but merely the culture or folklore. A lack of punishment. Another racist incident. And so on.
On Sunday, the Atalanta-Fiorentina Serie A game was briefly stopped after Fiorentina defender Dalbert signaled to the referee that he’d been racially abused. While the match was halted, an announcement played over the PA system, imploring the home fans to stop their abuse. It was met with boos and whistles. And then the game went on.
It was hardly the first such incident in Italy in this nascent season.
Two weeks ago, AC Milan’s Franck Kessie was racially abused by the notoriously right-wing Hellas Verona fans. Verona, in a pair of tweets, then claimed it was being unfairly maligned, that the sounds where just whistles. “Let’s not stumble on clichés and old labels,” it wrote. “Respect for Verona and its people.”
And like at Verona, neither Atalanta nor Fiorentina would even acknowledge what happened. “I really didn’t hear these chants. I didn’t ask [Dalbert] anything either,” Fiorentina coach Vincenzo Montella said, per the Associated Press. “I didn’t hear, to be honest, no.”
Then Montella suggested it was all overblown, that he’s insulted all the time because he’s from Naples.
His counterpart, Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini, likewise claimed he’d heard nothing. “If a couple of idiots who were on the other side [of the stadium] said something to Dalbert, OK. But then again, do you know how many and serious insults from individuals there are in all the stadiums?”
Gasperini continued by arguing that mere insults and their ilk shouldn’t be policed if they aren’t full-on chants. “Let’s avoid doing things like this because instead of having a positive effect, which would be right when there are actual chants, we have an exaggeration and I think this was the case today,” he said.
Which all just sounded like an echo from the first major incident of the Italian season, when Cagliari fans blatantly made monkey noises as Inter Milan’s Romelu Lukaku stepped up to take a penalty against their club on Sep. 1.
Cagliari claimed that no racism had occurred and was upset that its fans were called racist. And they did this while somehow also offering “full support” to Lukaku.
Not only did the Cagliari fans deny any wrongdoing, but they were backed by Lukaku’s own Inter fans, who put out a statement betraying an exceedingly poor understanding of what racism actually is.
This is a statement released by @Inter_en ultras the #CurvaNord about the racism @RomeluLukaku9 was the victim of.— Nima Tavallaey Roodsari (@NimaTavRood) September 3, 2019
It begins with the words “we’re really sorry you thought what happened in Cagliari was racist.”
Anyone still wonder why I’m proud to never have set foot there?
“We are sorry that you thought that what happened at Cagliari is racist,” the Inter ultras wrote. “You have to understand that Italy is not like many other North European countries where racism is a REAL problem.”
The argument was that monkey noises are merely taunting, “Not for racism but to mess them up.”
Then team president Steven Zhang chimed in and somehow made things even worse. He claimed non-discrimination is “embedded in the DNA” of the club, reports the AP. Then he defended the fans’ inane statement.
There was no punishment for Cagliari. Serie A argued that there was no proof the sounds were discriminatory because it was drowned out by other noises. This is obviously not true. The monkey noises are very clearly audible in the recording.
There likely won’t be any punishment for Verona or Atalanta either.
This was matchday four in Serie A. In each of the last three weeks there have been at least one incident of racism.— Andrew Cesare (@AndrewCesare) September 23, 2019
The responses have been:
- Further investigation and then nothing
- No mention
- Further investigation
Because Italian soccer, as a whole, refuses to acknowledge that there’s a problem, you can’t engage with something that you don’t think exists. Its explanation rests on the fallacy that something has to be said with the intent to be hurtful just to be racist – that otherwise, monkey noises are just an insult. Their logic contends that if you’re not thinking racist thoughts while shouting monkey noises at a black player, those monkey noises then aren’t racist. Which is a bit like saying that when you don’t think murderous thoughts while you’re shooting someone, it can’t really be murder.
Serie A was called out for this problem as recently as Monday, when FIFA president Gianni Infantino condemned the racist incidents at The Best FIFA Football Awards ceremony. “We have to say no to racism in any form,” he said. “No to racism in society and no to racism in football.”
But when Italian clubs and fans don’t see anything wrong in their own actions, they’re unlikely to police it wholeheartedly. At that point, it feels a little like the French Ligue 1 games that have been stopped because of homophobic banners, while the French federation’s president simultaneously declared that he doesn’t want to stop games over homophobia.
This vile practice in Italian soccer cannot be addressed until its entire soccer community understands fully why it’s an issue in the first place. Before you can address your own racism, you have to know what racism is.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist and a sports communication lecturer at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.
More from Yahoo Sports: