Serie A's anti-racism campaign backfires - how Italy's media reacted

no to racism
Before the campaign launched all 20 Serie A clubs pledged to combat Italian football's "serious problem" with racism

At the end of a year marred by incidents of racism across Italian football, the latest uproar was caused not by the behaviour of fans - but by Italy's football governing body.

Serie A unveiled its 'No To Racism' posters at its headquarters in Milan on Monday. Those posters depicted the faces of three monkeys.

Italian clubs AC Milan and Roma quickly condemned the artwork, with Milan chief executive Ivan Gazidis stating the images "came as a surprise, were insensitive and badly timed".

Here is how the national press in Italy and users on social media reacted to the controversy.

'Embarrassing' initiative

News website Il Post reported the artwork on Monday, saying that "predictably, the initiative isn't causing the desired reaction". On Tuesday, it called the project "embarrassing", and Esquire Italia commented that "using monkeys amounts to PR suicide… The world is looking at us, and we just can't get it right".

News agency Adnkronos even enlisted the help of a sociologist, Chiara Saraceno, to help explain why the artwork has caused such controversy: "Even if the core idea is to remind people that we all descend from the apes… it could be seen to mean that some people are closer to monkeys, while others have evolved further."

Twitter user Simone Fontana wrote: "Serie A is trying to solve an issue it doesn't understand, know or care about. And that is why we shouldn't ask those who cause the problems how to solve them."

Journalist Leonardo Bianchi said using monkeys in a campaign against racism in Italy, "where black women MPs are still compared to 'orangutans', is hardly a stroke of genius".

Parallels with 'Black Friday'

But in a series of Instagram stories posted a few hours after the official launch of the campaign, artist Simone Fugazzotto, who produced the posters, appeared bewildered at the sudden media attention.

In an interview with Radio Deejay, he said that Italian media had already reported on his triptych when it was unveiled at the Stadio Olimpico last May. The artist attributed the current media storm to the fact that outlets such as CNN and the Guardian have picked up the story.

Radio host Linus drew parallels between Fugazzotto's posters and the recent front page of Italian newspaper Corriere dello Sport, which featured black players Chris Smalling and Romelu Lukaku and the widely criticised headline "Black Friday". Linus said that story only garnered international attention because the Daily Mail covered it.

The implication is that although racist incidents are commonplace in Italy, they rarely even register with the general public unless foreign outlets start paying attention.

Although AC Milan and Roma both issued statements disavowing "what appears to be an anti-racism campaign", some Twitter users agreed that the story would have never blown up had it not been for the sudden interest taken by international media.

Corriere dello Sport
Corriere dello Sport defended its "Black Friday" headline

One pointed out that "obviously it's only after foreign outlets criticised it that the clubs magically realised they don't like it either… and want to distance themselves".

Website Fanpage.it acknowledged the gulf between domestic and foreign perceptions of racism in Italy: "First, the image went viral, and then it became news… It's only across the border that the idea was immediately seen for what it is: a surreal choice.

"The Lega Serie A has never been great at dealing with discrimination, but it's managed to do even worse now by creating a controversy out of literally nowhere."

The Fugazzotto case is only the latest in a series of "clumsy" attempts at fighting the racism seemingly entrenched at every level of Italian football. Last November, a children's football club made the headlines when the mother of one player subjected a child in the rival team to racist slurs.

The club issued a strongly worded statement against "the disgusting event", and said that, in support of the child, all players from both teams would attend the next game with their faces painted black.

Then, too, some Twitter users and a few media outlets took it upon themselves to explain at length the history and implications of blackface, while others praised the club's initiative, but the story went otherwise largely unnoticed.

Whether it would have made more noise had foreign media picked it up is hard to say. That very same evening, the eyes of the international football community were on the stadium in Verona, where Brescia striker Mario Balotelli threatened to walk off the pitch after being subjected to sustained racist abuse and monkey chants.

BBC Monitoring reports and analyses news from TV, radio, web and print media around the world. You can follow BBC Monitoring on Twitter and Facebook.

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