Romelu Lukaku is right: 'F*ck racism!' And f*ck the authorities who continue to do nothing meaningful about it!
The morning after Romelu Lukaku had once again been subjected to monkey chants at an Italian football stadium, he had a simple message to share: "F*ck racism!"
The Inter striker also said he hoped that the authorities "take action for real this time".
One could tell by the phrasing and tone of the sentence, though, that he didn't truly believe there was any chance of that happening.
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Another ridiculous ruling
On Thursday, the sporting judge ordered that the Tribuna Sud at the Allianz Stadium be closed for just one game.
It was also revealed that the second yellow card that Lukaku received would be upheld because of his allegedly provocative behaviour – namely yellowing 'muti' ('silence') at the fans who had subjected him to monkey chants.
Basta basta basta basta basta basta basta basta basta basta basta basta basta basta basta basta basta basta basta basta basta basta.— Fabrizio Biasin (@FBiasin) April 4, 2023
Basta bestie negli stadi. In tutti gli stadi.
The Belgium international should have been cleared of any wrongdoing, his second yellow card rescinded, thus clearing him to play in the second leg of the Coppa Italia semi-final.
Instead, he will be banned from playing in the return clash at San Siro, meaning he has essentially been punished for literally trying to silence racists.
It's shocking – and yet, depressingly, wholly unsurprising.
Racism remains rampant in Italy
The problem of racism has never been taken seriously in Italy.
It's 10 years since former AC Milan star Kevin Prince-Boateng walked off the field after being subjected to racist abuse in a mid-season friendly with Pro Patria, in what should have been a watershed moment in football's fight against racism.
But while we've had countless catchy slogans and mealy-mouthed messages of support from the authorities, no meaningful action has ever been taken. Consequently, racism remains rampant in calcio.
As Lukaku pointed out, this isn't the first time he has been targeted, but it's not even the first time we've seen a player of colour admonished for defiantly celebrating a goal in front of those who had been racially abusing him.
Moise Kean did likewise against Cagliari back in 2019 and wasn't just accused of provoking the fans by the Sardinian club's president Tommaso Giulini, but was also criticised by his own team-mate, Leonardo Bonucci, who, in completely missing the point, perfectly illustrated the way in which so many influential figures in Italian football simply cannot comprehend the problem, meaning there's presently little hope of ever finding a solution.
Of course, this obviously isn't just an Italian issue. It's evident in every league in every country, and in every sport. While English football is once again struggling to stamp out 'tragedy chanting', English rugby has just been shaken by the findings of a comprehensive investigation into systemic racism.
But there is simply no hiding the fact that Serie A has become synonymous with such sorry episodes, which should be of huge concern to those trying to sell calcio to a wider audience.
Indeed, even from a purely cynical standpoint – which, let's face it, is how most powerbrokers view the game – racial abuse is bad for business.
It hurts the brand, it's a turn-off for potential investors, so it's staggering that they refuse to address the problem properly.
Pitiful and pointless punishments
And it's not just racism either; there are weekly incidents of antisemitism, sexism and territorialism too.
In the Rome derby just before the international break, some Lazio fans chanted antisemitic slogans, while one supporter sported a jersey with the name 'Hitlerson' on the back, just above the number 88 – another reference to a man responsible for the murder of millions of Jews.
The disciplinary commission decreed that the Curva Nord be closed for one game – but then suspended the sentence.
Meanwhile, last weekend, a group of Roma fans on the Curva Sud repeatedly referred to visiting Sampdoria coach Dejan Stankovic as a 'zingaro' ('gypsy').
The Giallorossi were fined just €8,000 (£7,000/$9,000), with the authorities explaining that the sentence had been mitigated by the actions of coach Jose Mourinho, who had gestured to the Roma fans to stop abusing his former player.
Mourinho's intervention was admirable and worthy of acknowledgement, but it should have in no way resulted in a more lenient ruling – because the punishments will remain pointless as long as the punishments remain pitiful.
Talking nothing but sh*t
All of these vile chants are obviously part of a wider problem, societal issues that are still not being adequately addressed by politicians and police. But that simply does not absolve calcio of blame.
The game's organising bodies cannot control what happens outside of arenas, but they, along with clubs and local authorities, are duty-bound to at least attempt to control what happens inside them.
Regarding this latest episode involving Lukaku, it was somewhat encouraging to see Juventus pro-actively attempt to identify the culprits so that they can be properly sanctioned, hopefully with lifetime bans from the stadium.
But nobody's doing enough.
Serie A's subsequent statement was utterly devoid of any substance, and didn't even specifically reference the Lukaku abuse, while even Inter's reaction was embarrassingly and bizarrely weak.
We are brothers and sisters of the world. Since 9 March 1908, this has been our story.— Inter (@Inter_en) April 5, 2023
We want to firmly reiterate that we stand united against racism and all forms of discrimination.#FCIM
Tellingly, the most powerful condemnation we've seen so far has come from Lukaku's management team, Roc Nation Sports International, who took out a full-page ad in the Gazzetta dello Sport on Thursday morning which called on Italy as a nation to "Do better, want better, be better."
Agencies are essentially doing a better job of protecting players than the game's governing bodies. Again, though, that’s to be expected at this stage.
In relation to the issue of racism, all of the game's major powerbrokers have had their heads up their own holes for so long now that they unsurprisingly talk nothing but sh*t.
Action - not words
And the time for talking is over, anyway. Lukaku and every other person forced to endure such horrific treatment at a football match need action – not words.
If there is racist chanting at a stadium, the game should be immediately stopped so that those responsible can be identified and ejected – forever.
If, upon the resumption of play, the abuse continues, the game should be abandoned and a 3-0 victory immediately awarded to the opposition.
No exceptions, no excuses, no appeals and, above all else, no suspended sentences. Only justice.
The constant counter-argument is that one cannot punish thousands of the fans for the crimes of an ignorant few. But that's the way it has to be. There is no other option anymore. We're way past the point of trying to apportion blame to specific parties.
The onus has to be placed on clubs to get racists out of their stadiums with the help of security, stewards and even other supporters. Dealing with prejudice simply has to be considered more important than picking up points.
Critics will claim that such a hardline approach will create chaos and lead to umpteen abandonments. Firstly, that in itself is an admission of the scale and severity of the problem. And secondly, ask yourself one simple question: would regular walkovers really be any less farcical or unpalatable than a person of colour being racially abused for celebrating a goal in 2023?
Seriously, f*ck racism! And f*ck the authorities who continue to do nothing meaningful about it!