The cold reality is anti-Semitism, Fascism and overt racism are common, and somewhat accepted, in European football stadiums. All because it is viewed through the prism of sport.
Even a casual consumer of news will have seen the most recent example from the supporters of S.S. Lazio, a football club based in Rome, Italy. In an attempt to organize irrational or disturbing behavior, most people attribute these acts to larger trends or current events. Yes there is Trumpism. A People’s Party in Switzerland. The National Front in France. The Golden Dawn in Greece. But politics in sports is a pastime in Europe, not a trend or a new phenomena.
The politics of club and fan is somewhat of a consuming thing in European football. Silvio Berlusconi, an Italian Prime Minister in four different governments, was also simultaneously the owner of the largest media company in Italy and President of A.C. Milan — giants of European club football. Many see his Forza Italia party as a precursor to Trump and Trumpism.
Sadly, Saturday’s Derby della Capitale between A.S. Roma and S.S. Lazio, the two football clubs that represent Italy’s capital city of Rome, may see some of the worst of anti-Semitic behavior masked in fandom and Fascism.
I have been an avid A.S. Roma supporter over half of my life. I have seen I Lupi, or “The Wolves” play a half dozen times in person. An unmatched thrill. First at the Meadowlands against Napoli, against Arsenal in the Champions League, and earlier this year at the Derby della Capitale between the inner-city rivals A.S. Roma and S.S. Lazio.
My passion for A.S. Roma centers around the history of the city and club. From a childhood love of Julius Caesar, Princeps and Cicero, to the magic surrounding A.S. Roma’s talisman and club captain Francesco Totti’s 25 year career with the team. A city and club legend who retired last year, only ever playing for the Giallorossi.
A passion cemented by the fact that S.S. Lazio, their inner-city rival, was the team of Mussolini. Encountering laziale (Lazio fans) with Il Duce tattooed on their chest, peppering causal conversations with far-right ideas and racist rhetoric in the Parioli district of Rome was not an uncommon occurrence.
The most recent example: Lazio supporters plastered photos of Anne Frank in an A.S. Roma jersey throughout the Stadio Olimpico — the former olympic stadium in Rome the two clubs have shared for decades. An anti-Semitic act designed at tweaking Roma supporters as being traditionally more left-leaning — meaning inclusive of Jews.
This is not the first time, nor will it be the last. A popular A.S. Roma blog Chiesa di Totti points this out in the following excerpt from a recent blog post titled, The Morality of a Derby (an excellent overview of the Derby’s politics).
20 years ago in a derby match with Roma, Lazio fans held a banner that read: Auschwitz Is Your Homeland; The Ovens Are Your Homes. Just weeks ago, supporters littered stickers with the image of Anne Frank wearing a Roma jersey. In an immediate public relations maneuver to save face, Lazio President, Claudio Lotito, pledged to send 200 fans each year on a visit to Auschwitz. Along with that gesture, he visited Rome’s synagogue with a wreath like a man delivering a get well soon card. Shortly later, the president was caught calling the visit a “charade” and the peace offering was found floating in the Tiber River.
While I will be rooting for A.S. Roma during Saturday’s crucial Derby della Capitale (the two teams are at the top of the Serie A table at current), I will also be looking for how the fans and the teams approach the game given recent events, in the hopes that such a beautiful game can move past the worst actions of a few.
Daje Rome! Forza Roma, Per Sempre!