In a time when Juventus were still sharing their home ground with Torino at the Stadio delle Alipi, a struggling Biaconeri hosted Udinese in front of 23,609 fans in 2009.
Juve won the match after defender Fabio Grosso scored the only goal of the game. Yet, the next day’s headlines weren’t what everyone expected them to be. A few sections of the home fans sung: “If you jump up and down, Balotelli will die.” And the press didn’t need to hear it a second time to run a full page spread about Juventus and racism.
Three years later, in 2013, Juventus are now playing at a new stadium built on the same site where the Stadium of Alps once stood. The Biaconeri may have demolished their old stadium and built a new one on top, but they are yet to crush the racist chanting among its Ultras.
Juventus were fined 4,000 euros yesterday after the Ultras targeted Balotelli – for the second time in his career – in a game where he wasn’t even within a 100 miles close to the pitch. ESPN’s Italian correspondent Adam Digby in his article for Juventiknows.com said that Balotelli wasn’t the only player targeted during that game.
In a YouTube clip “filmed as players were introduced to the crowd (against Catania), it contains yet more clearly audible racial slurs including a reference to a banana as Paul Pogba’s name is read out and Kwadwo Asamoah being labelled ‘a piece of s**t.”
The Biaconeri Ultras have a name too; Drughi: famously named after the violent gang from the novel A Clockwork Orange called the droogs.
Over the last three years, they have cost Juventus thousands of euros in fines paid to the Italian Football Association for racist chanting.
In the 2008-09 season, Juventus played one match behind closed doors after the Ultras targeted an 18-year-old Balotelli. Next season, Juventus were fined 25,000 euros after racist chants against Balotelli were heard during a game against Inter Milan. This happened just two weeks after they were slapped with a 20,000 euros fine for a similar offence while playing Udinese. Juventus also closed down “the stand holding their ‘Ultra’ fans for one match.”
Last season, when Juve won the Scudetto without losing a single match in the league, they were fined four times during the season for racist chanting by its Ultras.
Overall, the club racked up 119,000 Euros in fines since 2009 because the Ultras racially abused – not just Balotelli – but players from other clubs like Sulley Muntari, Urby Emanuelson, Pablo Armero and Gelson Fernandes.
It isn’t just a problem at Juventus. Racism has spread everywhere, every inch, in every stadium and city in Italy. Even AS Roma fans targeted Balotelli in the past. Recently, Kevin-Prince Boateng walked off the pitch in protest against fans of fourth division side Pro Patria for racist chanting. Last month, Balotelli’s former club Inter Milan were fined 50,000 Euros – for the second time this season – after fans made monkey calls and waved inflatable bananas during the Milan derby. The first time, they were fined 15,000 euros for racist chanting against Balotelli during a home game against Chievo. And yesterday, Genoa were fined 30,000 euros for racial abuse against an unnamed Milan player, in a game where Balotelli scored during the weekend.
It has been 12 years since FIFA started its Fight Against Racism program, urging fans and players alike to embrace racial tolerance. In Italy, racism is an issue that is often drowned under match fixing scandals. It is deeply ingrained into the psychology of those standing on the terraces. Racism will forever remain a dark stain on the fabric of their respective club colours unless they do something quick.
In a time when two Italian clubs are going to reach the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time since the 2006/07 season and are slowly reasserting their dominance in Europe, there is a danger of Italian football stepping backwards instead of moving forward and leading by example. It is high time this persecution of Balotelli stops for good. Being black doesn’t make him any less Italian than those whistling from the stands. It is time for the FA to dock league points, especially for serial offenders like Juventus, when slapping fines is clearly not addressing the issue.Published 12 Mar 2013, 09:13 IST