AS Roma double down on calls for 'zero tolerance' approach to tackling racism
"I don't mean this in a negative way, but wearing T-shirts with 'Say No To Racism' on them doesn't seem to be working. It's not enough on its own."
When AS Roma issued a supporter with a lifetime ban last week, history was made.
Never before had an Italian football club taken such action. Before a recent change in legislation, only police had the authority to bar individuals from stadiums. Even then, it was rarely for more than five years.
Roma's decision to take such an unprecedented step came as a result of the racist abuse received on Instagram by Juan Jesus, their Brazilian defender. After Jesus had posted a screenshot of the culprit's offending message on his Instagram Story, Roma president Jim Pallotta was promptly informed. Senior figures at the club were in agreement that the strongest response possible was necessary.
Having reported the matter to police and to Instagram, Roma announced the supporter's ban on Twitter. A day later, another tweet called on Serie A to adopt a similar 'zero tolerance' approach in tackling racism in Italian football.
In the last year alone, there have been several high-profile incidents involving racism in Italy's top flight. Fiorentina's visit to Atalanta was temporarily stopped last month when Dalbert reported to the referee that the home support had abused him.
This followed an incident in Cagliari where Romelu Lukaku was taunted as he prepared to take a penalty for Inter Milan. An independent sports judging panel later found there was insufficient evidence to bring about any sanctions. In April, Moise Kean was also targeted by Cagliari supporters after scoring for Juventus - an incident which generated more headlines after his captain, Leonardo Bonucci, appeared to apportion some of the blame to his teenage teammate for his celebration.
"A huge majority of Italian football fans are tired of this," Paul Rogers, Roma's Head of Strategy, tells JOE. "They don’t like being seen as racists because the vast, vast majority of them are not like that at all."
With their response to the abuse of Jesus, Rogers adds that Roma hope a turning point has now been reached.
"Italian football - the authorities, the clubs, potentially some players, fans and the media - have all been quite soft on racism and this has to change.
"I don't mean this in a negative way, but wearing T-shirts with 'Say No To Racism' on them doesn't seem to be working. It's not enough on its own, even though it's a message we should be promoting."
The response to Roma's decision has been overwhelmingly positive. As well as receiving praise from their own supporters, fans of rival clubs such as Napoli, Juventus and both the Milan clubs have commended their actions.
A tweet from Giussepe Conte, Italy's Prime Minister, also expressed support. While Rogers has been encouraged by this, he admits to being surprised that the individual responsible for the abuse has since been interviewed by two of the country's national newspapers.
Chi ha insultato ieri #JuanJesus non ha alcuna passione per lo sport: che stia fuori a vita dagli stadi sportivi!
— Giuseppe Conte (@GiuseppeConteIT) September 27, 2019
"I found that quite strange," he admits. "That allowed the culprit to almost normalise the racism and paint himself as the victim in some way. To me it’s quite incredible that a national newspaper in Italy would give a platform to someone who is being racist.
"We can't do this on our own. We need help from everyone if we're going to tackle this head on, the media included."
Serie A have since responded to Roma's tweet, insisting that they are on the same side in tackling racism throughout Italy's top flight and beyond. Roma will work with the league in implementing their new initiatives to promote anti-racism. They are also conducting independent meetings on the issue with some of the country's other leading football clubs.
"We don’t claim to be experts on this," Rogers says. "We’re open to learning more about how best to tackle this, whether that comes from speaking to players who have been on the receiving end of abuse as well as to other clubs in Italy and abroad. We’re also reaching out to sit down with the organisations set up exclusively to tackle all forms of discrimination in football."
While Rogers is clear that racism is a problem with society, not football, he believes the influence and platform that leading clubs have can be utilised to have a positive impact, even if that comes from adopting a stronger approach.
"It’s not straightforward," he says. "If solving racism in football was simple, it would have been dealt with a long time ago.
"It’s important that if we are going to, we work together. Our message needs to be very clear now: zero tolerance."