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A Deafening Silence

Italian soccer clubs have a racism problem. It’s indicative of the sorry state of Italian civil society that almost nobody dares to speak openly about it.

If soccer reflected popular sentiment, recent matches in Italy provide ample food for thought. On May 16, 2012, the Italian Cup final, theCoppa Italia, was played between AS Rome and SS Lazio (Lazio was the deserving winner). Outside the arena, the area around the stadium resembled a warzone. Since the death of a Lazio supporter in 1979 (he was hit in the eye by fireworks), every match between Rome’s two main teams provides an opportunity for urban warfare. Stabbings are the norm, as are clashes with police. This time, due to the high stakes, security measures were particularly intense and major incidents were prevented.

Yet, nothing could be done to avoid other kind of crimes. AS Rome had the chance to win its tenth cup, and thus the chance to permanently place a star on its jersey. The team’s supporters were bragging about it and didn’t fail to point out that their opponents from Lazio have only won five cups. Lazio fans answered promptly with another banner: “It is always the same story: you want a star on your chest.” The reference was not just to the cup: some Lazio supporters enjoy calling Roma’s fans “Jews,” which they intend as a form of insult.

The media paid little attention. Yet on November 22, it had already happened. A gang of forty Lazio supporters raided a pub in central Rome where supporters of the English team Tottenham Hotspurs were drinking. Seven English fans had to be hospitalized after being stabbed and beaten. The following day, during a Europa League match between Lazio and Tottenham, Lazio fans reverted to their anti-Semitism, singing about the “Tottenham Jews” (the club has a large number of Jewish fans) and raising a “Free Palestine” banner that was intended as an anti-Semitic insult, not as a clever comment on the intricate politics of the Middle East.