An extra day off after New Year. That, it turns out, is the going rate for racially abusing a fellow professional in Serie A these days. It was confirmed yesterday that Lazio’s Senad Lulic will receive a 20-day ban for his remarks about Roma’s Antonio Rudiger, with the punishment conveniently handed down just after the Aquile had played their final game ahead of the winter break, so he misses just one fixture against the mighty Crotone.
Perhaps the most depressing aspect of the laughable ‘punishment’ is that it isn’t at all surprising. It’s yet another example of the culture of being SEEN to do justice without actually DOING justice which is prevalent in football, Italian football perhaps most of all.
Following the Derby della Capitale, Lulic had dismissed Rudiger, saying of the centre-back “two years ago he was selling socks and belts in Stuttgart.” Needless to say, Rudiger has never been a street seller, was born and raised in Germany and already playing for Die Mannschaft before he came to Roma.
“It’s not his fault really, but the fault of those who are around him. They haven’t taught him good manners,” Lulic continued. The implication being that the Giallorossi defender is a beast, uncivilised. He can’t be expected to know any better.
To be clear, this wasn’t an outburst in the heat of the moment. That would be understandable, if not forgivable. No, Lulic was speaking in a television interview after the match. When offered the chance to reword or withdraw what he had said, the Lazio man refused. Lulic did later issue an apology, but only after he’d seen the firestorm surrounding him and the club had already said sorry on his behalf.
While Kevin Strootman was given a two-game ban following that same match for throwing water and play-acting - later revoked - Lulic’s case was passed to the FIGC. After almost a month of investigation, the midfielder will miss one match against Crotone.
Can we really be surprised? After all, the head of the FIGC is one Carlo Tavecchio. While running for election in 2014, Tavecchio decried “Opti Poba” who “previously was eating bananas” and could now play in Serie A. There was condemnation, a mealy-mouthed apology and a token “ban” from UEFA, but Tavecchio was still elected.
Whether it’s Silvio Berlusconi declaring that Mario Balotelli “has taken too much sun, but is still Italian” or Arrigo Sacchi warning “there are too many black players, even in the youth teams”; the attitudes to racism among the gentry of calcio is frighteningly backward.
How can the FIGC condemn Lazio fans for monkey chanting against Costa Nhamoinesu when their own President has pushed the same stereotypes?
Alas, this being football, partisanship often comes ahead of decency. Rather than condemn their player in the aftermath of his interview, Lazio immediately declared they’d defend him. Some fans of the Biancocelesti leapt in to insist that what Lulic had said wasn’t really racist. Do they really believe he’d have made those comments about a white person?
What would Lulic have to have done for those fans to admit he was being racist? Use the N-word? Make a monkey noise? Even then, they’d probably say he was just quoting Kanye West or recreating his favourite scene from Planet Earth.
This isn’t about Lazio, Roma, or any other club. It’s about condemning racism. Lazio’s communications director said “I expect an apology for the songs Roma fans aimed at the lad”, the classic “what about them?!” approach so prevalent in football.
Juventus fans sing songs about Superga? “But what about them?!” Rangers fans sing songs about Catholics? “But what about them?!” Chelsea fans admit ‘we’re racist and we like it? “What about them?!” What about, what about, what about.
Many, perhaps most, Lazio fans utterly condemn racism. The abuse from sections of their support embarrasses them. But it’s no good saying “what about?” when one of your players is involved. It’s no good staying silent. Condemning an opponent is easy, speaking up against your own takes real courage, and that applies to fans of every team in the world.
This year, FIFA disbanded its anti-racism taskforce because it had “completely fulfilled” its task. Yes, in the year of Donald Trump, Nigel Farage and Marine Le Pen, FIFA solved racism. This, Lulic’s ban and countless other examples prove that the game’s governing bodies aren’t going to seriously combat racism. That’s why it’s up to us.
The rivalry between teams is a key part of football, and one of the most wonderful. But it has its limits. If you’re delighted that Lulic has been given such a lenient punishment, ask yourself how you’d react had Edin Dzeko said the same thing about Keita Balde Diao. Would you associate with someone who said those things in the pub? If not, you shouldn’t tolerate it in the stadium.
The authorities won’t get serious about racism until fans stop making excuses for it in their midst. Don’t point at others. Don’t stay silent.