When the Beautiful Game Isn't
June 5, 2013 1:58 PM   Subscribe

"Italy is in crisis. I think that's safe to say. Something new is arising out of something old. I don't know whether it's a first breath or a last gasp. James Walston, the professor, thinks all the racial abuse is a sign that Italy has changed, and this is a defiant last stand before a multi-cultural society emerges. Maybe he's right. I don't know." Wright Thompson writes about soccer and racism in Italy.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates (30 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
Jesus, we're on a Right Wing Europe tear this afternoon.

A lot of the connection between Italy's current swing right and its economic decline makes sense, especially the mythology of violence and force tied to the core of fascism. And when I was in Italy, I was amazed at stuff that would never fly in the states — there were signs up at highway reststops that said, "Distrust the Gyspies."

I hope they get their shit back together, but they're making me more pessimistic every time I hear news.
posted by klangklangston at 2:35 PM on June 5, 2013


Good read, I enjoyed it.

I certainly sympathize with many of the players from the piece. In some ways, racism was much easier to deal with when it was more of an every day presence in my life (the days of my youth in South Florida).

Now that I've grown up and escaped the ghetto and am a fairly successful and law-abiding member of the upper middle class, I do go through long stretches where I don't get many stark reminders of the problem of race. But then some incident will occur like POW!!! and I get reminded that I'm still just a n----r in the eyes of some people regardless of my accomplishments and the way I live my life, and it hurts even more than some incidents I remember from my childhood.

I have vague dreams that my son will one day be a soccer player, and if I'm in the stands with some racist fans who start something, I don't know what I'll do, but it might be ugly.
posted by lord_wolf at 2:35 PM on June 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


Something new is arising out of something old. I don't know whether it's a first breath or a last gasp. James Walston, the professor, thinks all the racial abuse is a sign that Italy has changed, and this is a defiant last stand before a multi-cultural society emerges.

This is a poetic sentiment, the notion that a stable multi-cultural society in Europe is right around the corner; catering perhaps to the American reader who has lived in a society that has been dealing with civil rights since at least the mid 1950's and is looking for some outside inspiration. I personally think the trouble is only getting started.

Almost 20 years ago, Dominique Wilkins played basketball in Greece during the NBA lockout and when he would shoot free throws, the crowd would chant, "K-K-K!" to get him to miss. There was at least something innocent about those jokes; obviously the KKK has no presence in the Balkans. Things have gotten far worse since then. Just the other day a player for AEK celebrated a goal with a Nazi salute. No good deed goes unpunished, however; in an unrelated act of aggression the following game, his team gave up a late goal and shortly after they were chased out of their own stadium by their own fans.

The collapse of the local economy in Athens alone due largely to outside pressures, combined with massive illegal immigration problems and the prostitutes that run the government, makes Greece a prime candidate for place where the far-right will solidify. With Italy following closely behind.
posted by phaedon at 2:48 PM on June 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


I have vague dreams that my son will one day be a soccer player, and if I'm in the stands with some racist fans who start something, I don't know what I'll do, but it might be ugly.

It's the US. In the UK they'd probably get banned from the stadium for life as well as all football/soccer games for a few years, so I'd hope it would be the same over there.
posted by jaduncan at 2:49 PM on June 5, 2013


Great article.
posted by Diablevert at 2:52 PM on June 5, 2013


Tim Parks' book A Season With Verona discussed this topic a little bit. The book is from 2002 and I admit being shocked then at some of the accounts of racism in Italian football even before what seems to be this current rise of right-wing stuff in Europe.
posted by PussKillian at 3:05 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm really worried about that part of the world right now. When you have really high and persistent unemployment among young people, it can lead to revolution. All they need (actually, just what they don't need) is a charismatic leader to emerge, and it could get really bloody.

And if history is any judge, charismatic leaders in such situations don't tend to be liberal multiculturalists. Exactly the opposite; they tend to be nationalists and to demonize all foreigners and domestic racial minority groups.

It's not just Italy (the history home of Fascism) that worries me. I'm also worried about Spain, and even more so about Greece. You might get a cascading "PIIGS Spring", as it were. (Except without Ireland, about which I'm not worried.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:18 PM on June 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


I have vague dreams that my son will one day be a soccer player, and if I'm in the stands with some racist fans who start something, I don't know what I'll do, but it might be ugly.

I'm a lot older now than I was in the 60's. But if I'm sitting near you I'll still have your back.
posted by notreally at 3:27 PM on June 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


All they need (actually, just what they don't need) is a charismatic leader to emerge, and it could get really bloody.

It seems like it's just a matter of time before that charismatic leader does emerge. History pretty much demands it, because these far-right/nationalist parties always seem to follow the same script, no matter where they emerge from. Seriously, it sometimes seems like it's from a book that's thousands of years old: "traditional" roles for women, blaming all their problems on an influx of people from outside the tribe, terrorizing the "outsiders" at every turn, antagonizing people from their own tribe who are making nice with the outsiders, gaining seats in the legitimate government, then overthrowing the legitimate government and really making life hell for everybody.

I often wonder what would happen if you could magically transfer these nationalist groups and their hangers-on to a planet or a land populated only by people they approve of. On whom would they turn then, since they very much seem to need an Other to fuel their hate machine?
posted by lord_wolf at 3:33 PM on June 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


On the upside, a renewal of the welfare state and a big shakeup/redistribution could also happen. It's the rioting and the threat of revolution that forces the ruling class to make accomodations.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:56 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Almost 20 years ago, Dominique Wilkins played basketball in Greece during the NBA lockout and when he would shoot free throws, the crowd would chant, "K-K-K!" to get him to miss. There was at least something innocent about those jokes; obviously the KKK has no presence in the Balkans. Things have gotten far worse since then. Just the other day a player for AEK celebrated a goal with a Nazi salute. No good deed goes unpunished, however; in an unrelated act of aggression the following game, his team gave up a late goal and shortly after they were chased out of their own stadium by their own fans.


While it's technically probably true that the KKK per se isn't operating in Greece, they do have bands of white guys roving the streets attacking black people and destroying their livelihoods, so it's more of a six-of-one situation.

Somewhat unrelatedly, I went to an AEK game a few years ago where they were chased off the pitch after winning, in a season where they finished 3rd in the league and qualified for European competition, as opposed to being relegated like this year. In fairness, they looked like they were more interested in joyously mobbing the players and taking their clothes than in attacking anyone, but the players all immediately sprinted toward the locker room just the same.
posted by Copronymus at 3:56 PM on June 5, 2013


I often wonder what would happen if you could magically transfer these nationalist groups and their hangers-on to a planet or a land populated only by people they approve of. On whom would they turn then, since they very much seem to need an Other to fuel their hate machine?

There was a brief part of the article where the guy talked about his friend from Siena, who was a Porcupine. Which was a neighbourhood in Siena that fake battles the other neighbourhoods at an annual festival. And how he wouldn't be happy if his porcupine son married a Wolf girl. You know, another white Italian chick whose familia has been living three blocks away for 900 years.

So there's that.

Been a great thing for the cuisine, though, this bullshit.
posted by Diablevert at 4:01 PM on June 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


Great piece; thanks for posting it.
posted by languagehat at 4:03 PM on June 5, 2013


Thanks for posting the article. The sporadic racism of Italian football is a profoundly complex problem, and one that's really hard to grapple with from outsider's perspective. There's such cognitive dissonance, as the ESPN writer points out, in seeing ugly splenetic racist abuse rear its head in in an overt public setting in our apparently globalized sleekly modern 2013. It's like a coelacanth or something emerging from the god knows where in the middle of a FIFA-approved happy family of koi. And whilst other countries rend their garments over incidents that carry with them the baggage of racism (the Terry/Ferdinand saga; the appointment of Di Canio), the fact that often the Italian game seems determined to accept it somehow part of the order of things in some way just leaves onlookers aghast.

Fascism and football go way back in Italy. It was being used by Mussolini as an instrument and symbol of his ideas eighty years ago. His recent rehabilitation into a figure who is culturally available for parsing ("he did some good things and some bad things!" is far from an uncommon opinion) means that his legacy has been open for reclamation by contemporary fascists for some time now. Most crucially of all, the anni di piombo engendered a situation where heated antagonism and mutual recrimination are central aspects of political discourse, much more so than any other European country. And yet, as the writer also discovers, there's plenty of terrace racism distanced even from what we would comprehend as the socio-political discourse of the hard-right. What to outsiders and to the players looks, sounds, and feels like racism is often shrugged off as just a particular form of campanilismo or the enthusiastic posture of the ultra who will do anything they can to wind up the opposition, who is fair game for any taunt. And sometimes racism can just feel endemic in society as a whole, when some seemingly rational person just says something off the cuff that is so barkingly maddeningly racist in a casual way that you just want to bang your head against the table.
posted by hydatius at 4:07 PM on June 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


There was a brief part of the article where the guy talked about his friend from Siena, who was a Porcupine. Which was a neighbourhood in Siena that fake battles the other neighbourhoods at an annual festival. And how he wouldn't be happy if his porcupine son married a Wolf girl. You know, another white Italian chick whose familia has been living three blocks away for 900 years.

See also: Romeo and Juliet.
posted by 3FLryan at 4:08 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's not just Italy (the history home of Fascism) that worries me. I'm also worried about Spain, and even more so about Greece.

I have to say, on this issue, Vice's coverage has just been absolutely consistently excellent. Back articles on the Greek stuff can be found with this tag.
posted by hydatius at 4:11 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


By the way, six of the Pro Patria fans that caused K-P Boateng, Muntari et al. to leave the pitch has been sentenced today to between 40 and 60 days in jail.
posted by brokkr at 4:25 PM on June 5, 2013


Hydatius, from your username and location I cannot be sure you're Italian (as in, how much should I _explain_ for you to _understand_ etc. etc. bullshit).

In any case, whether you are or not, I was with you 100% until the 4th-from-last-word.
I disagree. Now, if you had said _their_ head against the table.....;-)

For the avoidance of doubt, as lawyers say, you're absolutely right.
posted by MessageInABottle at 4:30 PM on June 5, 2013


I'm not, but I lived there for a couple of years, and watched football from Serie A down through to what's now the Lega Pro.
posted by hydatius at 4:46 PM on June 5, 2013


Lord_wolf, Umberto Eco tried to put together a list if the most common fascist tropes

http://www.themodernword.com/eco/eco_blackshirt.html
posted by The Whelk at 4:51 PM on June 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


Hello, German central bankers, historical irony is calling on Line 1.
posted by jonp72 at 4:53 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Eco's piece's title: greatest pun, or greatest pun ever?
posted by thelonius at 5:01 PM on June 5, 2013


While it's technically probably true that the KKK per se isn't operating in Greece, they do have bands of white guys roving the streets attacking black people and destroying their livelihoods, so it's more of a six-of-one situation.

Just to clear up my statement, twenty years ago a black person in Greece was a rare sight. About the most pressing racism you would find in Greece then was directed towards Albanians, who for all intents and purposes, assimilated pretty well. Last time I was in Athens I felt like I had stepped into one of the outdoor sets of Bladerunner. Blinking lights, people plugged into all kinds of technology, and diverse, but in a confused way. People not speaking the same language. Not even interested in doing so.

Again, my objection is with the poetic hopefulness of the pullquote. Let's not forget what preceded the civil rights movement in the United States. And for that matter, it was only five minutes ago that Milosevic was wiping Muslims off the map a few miles to the north. And while there is no recent history of such action in Greece, it's not like Greeks didn't sympathize with Serbia. Five minutes before that you had Mussolini in power in Italy and Ataturk ethnically cleansing Turkey.

Sadly, the driving force here is more economics than ideology, and the numbers are fucking unbelievable. 64% of Greece's youth is unemployed. Who is going to soccer games again?
posted by phaedon at 5:18 PM on June 5, 2013


Although I am unsure about some other parts of Marxism, I find the Marxist analysis of the conditions that give rise to Fascism to be spot on. Namely, capitalist economic and social crisis. The Lega Nord sound like they are trying to appeal specifically to the petty bourgeoisie, which according to Trotsky form the primary support base of Fascist parties as well as the lumpen-proletariat.
posted by kiskar at 5:32 PM on June 5, 2013


Excellent article; thanks for posting!

I have strong ties to Italy; reading stuff like this is very disturbing. Essentially, the West (of which Italy is a part) is beginning to reap the whirlwind caused by its sheer lack of interest in anything that didn't make the rich, richer. We are suffering a version of this in the US, with the rise of retro-Tea Party types and other demagogues.

The globe is undergoing a structural shift. The need to work is running up technologies that make a lot of work unnecessary, or obsolete. People who live in countries that have been kept poor by the West's greed are trying desperately to get someplace where they and their families at least have a chance.

There way too much to say about this, and I'm out of time today, but do take heed to what others have said (above) about charismatic types who appeal to the worst impulses. We are going to see a lot more of these types, and not just in Italy. Again, America is no exception.

I may be wrong, but what I see, in small ways, is another kind of leader emerging - i.e. the kind of leader that is both charismatic, and it able at the same time to point to what has gone wrong and how we're all going to need to pitch in to make things change for the better, while at the same time cleaning house (bit-by-bit, election-by-election) of those who live in the past.

This is not going to be easy, as as with any human crisis there will probably be conflicts of all sorts that take the headlines. My suggestion is to start your own little social experiment right where you live - something you feel a resonance with. Look toward cooperation in ways that mean something, and get to know the "other side" - i.e. the closer one gets to one's object of hatred of prejudice, the more likely one begins to see that object having the same basic needs that most humans have...enough to live on, without becoming a slave; a community of basic respect; transparency between and among the governed and those who govern; adequate food, clothing and shelter; an education sufficient to let one adapt to changing times in the workplace (such as it it is, ever changing) and adapt to times of great personal need, minus the propensity to submit to demagoguery.

Viva Italia! Viva America!
posted by Vibrissae at 5:51 PM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


That was an excellent article. Thanks for posting it since I would never have come across it otherwise.
posted by shoesietart at 6:24 PM on June 5, 2013


I was astounded when I lived in Italy by the fervor of fans, even in Serie C-- the flung shirts, the cages for the fans of the opposing team, the flares thrown with ever-increasing vigor onto the pitch and into the faces of those wearing the wrong colors. Also by the casual, angry, anti-Star of David graffito that stayed for months on the creamy walls of the houses the next block over. By the curiosity at my African-American classmates.

Probably the best soccer book (and guide to living in Italy in some ways) that I've ever read is The Miracle of Castel di Sangro. Thirteen years later though, it only sounds like it's gotten worse. It can be a beautiful game again. I hope it will.
posted by jetlagaddict at 6:47 PM on June 5, 2013


This spring, I had my own taste of deeply embedded Italian style prejudice (racism is too easy a word when you're a woman *and* brown). Any details would offer too much information to identify so I'll just say that when my lawyer sent them a non negotiable letter of termination of contract, the Italian in question wrote back to emphasize that he was not responsible for the original injury that resulted in the PTSD (his actions triggered flashbacks, in the field). Hey ho, there we go.

I do go through long stretches where I don't get many stark reminders of the problem of race. But then some incident will occur like POW!!! and I get reminded that I'm still just a n----r in the eyes of some people regardless of my accomplishments and the way I live my life, and it hurts

I know, you know... Its just mind boggling... thank god I'm a dog on this interweb.
posted by infini at 8:00 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


What helps, however, is knowing whose signature was on the checks. Idiots.
posted by infini at 9:19 PM on June 5, 2013


One thing I always found weird about many racist Italians (which is not to say that all Italians are racist) was how *unapologetic* they were about it. In America, I think of racism as something that comes out after a few beers, or is accompanied by a shrug, or a muttered "I mean that's just what I think", or some acknowledgement that you are not supposed to say this. But in Italy, people would say deeply crazy shit about people of other races with the same bluff, hearty, confident tone they'd use for giving driving directions.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 9:57 PM on June 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


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