Rather than being supported by Italy’s football bodies in a stand against racism, Sulley Muntari has been punished for refusing to accept abuse
It doesn’t happen very often that an episode on a football pitch ends up at the United Nations. But what happened to Sulley Muntari during Cagliari-Pescara in one of those cases that should be shown everywhere to prevent them from happening again. The former Inter player reacted to racist chants from some individuals in the stands by leaving the pitch, being sent off by the referee in the process.
He is not the first to do so – namely Kevin-Prince Boateng – but his actions spoke louder than words. Muntari accused some fans, including a child, of racially abusing him, clearly hitting a raw nerve and provoking a reaction. Often in Italian stadiums one hears such racist comments, not so often does it provoke such anger in the recipient. This is why Muntari’s case was picked up all over the world.
Some say he should have kept on playing, some said he should have ignored the matter, seemingly being superior than those insulting him. The rules also mean he has been banned from the next match, with the judge also being unable to punish the Cagliari fans, as too little of them could be accused of actual racism. All this aside, Muntari’s episode showed that Italian football still has a long way to go to completely eradicate racism from its stadia.
And one of the reasons is that football often reflects society. Italy is in the process of adapting to an increasingly globalised society, with immigration hitting a historical high and day to day people still coping with the concept of difference and acceptance. The stadium is an amplifier of societal issues.
Secondly, there is a component of idiocy in these fans. They use racism, but are not necessarily consistently racist. Racist abuse is a tool to offend opponents, as other insults are, and bad language and aggressiveness is part of many areas of Italian stadia. There is a long path to go to educate people.
Institutionally, Italian football simply needs to do more. One cannot ban the footballer who has been abused and not do something about the fans. Drastic measures are needed, real intervention, rather than hoping for things to never happen again. A big sign would have been a proper investigation to find out who these individuals were, listening to Muntari and working with him to clean up the stadium.
Obviously, time is needed to instill the correct education in people, so that in the future all of this will simply not even be considered. To have racist abuse in 2017 is frankly ridiculous. But because Italy will need decades to really overcome this, the actions need to be really powerful. The current Italian FA rules don’t necessarily allow for strong action to take place, so a radical change is necessary.
With the right instruments, sporting justice can work with the police to identify these people and react against them, making the most of the actions of players like Muntari to help get rid of those who ruin Italian football.