Italian football’s new anti-racism campaign will use the friendly against England in Turin tomorrow as the focus of its efforts to change attitudes in a country that has an uncomfortable history of race relations in the game.
The Italian campaign is being headed by Fiona May, the English-born former Olympic long-jumper who chose to represent Italy after marrying an Italian, and she admits she has a tough challenge.
May was appointed by the Italian FA’s controversial president Carlo Tavecchio, the 71-year-old who was banned from all football activities for six months in November after referring to “eating bananas” when discussing foreign players.
Since then, former Italy coach Arrigo Sacchi caused a storm in February by saying there were “too many black players, even in the youth teams” in Italy, while racist abuse of players by extremist fans is relatively commonplace compared to Britain — Liverpool’s Mario Balotelli was even subjected to racial insults while training for Italy at the Italian FA’s (FIGC) training centre in Coverciano before the World Cup last year.
May admits she had to think long and hard before taking on the “daunting” task of heading the Italian FA’s anti-racism committee in September last year but has taken heart from the response to the recent launch of a 20-month campaign.
She said: “I didn’t accept it straight away — it was a pretty daunting task but I do like a challenge and felt it was important to show a bit of courage.
“There was nothing existing, we have to start from scratch and the main thrust is to target youngsters, the next generation.”
May’s campaign is called “Racists? Ugly race (...and we don’t want them in our stadiums).”
It is holding 20 events in 20 months in 20 different cities across Italy and the second of these takes place in Turin today ahead of the England game. The first involved more than 2,000 young people in Florence, May’s adopted home city.