“AC Milan’s Maignan Faces Racism, Political Scrutiny”

(CNN) – A prominent soccer goalkeeper who is black and was the victim of racist abuse during a match in Italy’s top league last month is now finding himself being kicked like a political football.

AC Milan goalkeeper Mike Maignan, who also plays for the French national team, after Udinese fans allegedly made monkey noises and other alleged racist chants towards the French during a Serie A match at the BlueEnergy Stadium in Udine, Italy Chased his team off the field – the latest in a long series of incidents of racist abuse in Italian football.

In a media conference before Milan’s Serie A home match against Bologna at the San Siro on 27 January, AC Milan coach Stefano Pioli said the player was “calm and strong”. CNN has contacted representatives of AC Milan, Udinese and Maignan who declined to be interviewed.

Maignan received widespread support from across the football world and FIFA president Gianni Infantino called for automatic forfeits for teams whose fans have racially abused players.

However, if a week is a long time in politics, the last few days must feel like an eternity for Magnan, as Italian political parties seem more intent on scoring party points about the appropriate response to the abuse she has endured. Are there.

After initially ordering Udinese to play its February 3 match against AC Monza in an empty stadium, Italy’s football federation, the FIGC, overturned the decision following an appeal by the Udine-based club.

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Instead, the punishment was reduced to playing the next two matches without fans in the Curva Nord section – where the five men identified by the club as the perpetrators of the January 20 racist incident were sitting.

According to the club, those five fans have been banned for life from Udinese’s BlueEnergy stadium.

In an effort to garner support for Maignan, Alberto Felice De Toni, mayor of the city of Udine, offered the 29-year-old honorary citizenship as a gesture of friendship.

But when the city council voted last week in what was largely supposed to be a ceremonial vote, members of the far-right political party Lega voted against the measure, implying that the city in which they were racially attacked. There, Magnan was denied honorary citizenship.

“I regret that the centre-right was not on our side at this delicate moment,” De Toni said on his Facebook page after the unsuccessful vote.

“It was a missed opportunity to demonstrate that our city is united and that it was clearly far from what happened, which happened over and over again in different stages and was implemented by a few individuals, but little of the city. Doesn’t represent even a bit. Neither do our fans,” DeToni said.

Lega party member Pietro Fontanini, along with Italy’s Transport Minister Matteo Salvini, said Meganne did not deserve citizenship because of her suffering.

Referring to the region of Italy where Udine is located, Fontanini said in a statement after the vote, “I believe that citizenship should not be granted because it could seem like a retaliatory action for the wrong that has happened “The Friulians don’t believe.” ,

“As per practice and tradition, honorary citizenship is awarded to personalities who have made concrete contributions to the socio-cultural welfare of the citizens. The Magnan case does not fall within this case, Fontani said.

Tobias Jones, an investigative journalist and author of the book “Ultra: The Underworld of Italian Football,” told CNN that for years, players were vilified for their reaction to abuse rather than the other way around, emboldening racist fans.

Jones says, “The excuse that football fans and extremists in particular always use in relation to racist chanting is this: we are trying to destroy opposition players, to take them away from their game, to destroy any aspect of them. Defame.”

“They’re not racist, they say, just strategic. They’ll abuse red-haired people, players cheated on by wives, any nationality – it’s all fair game [according to them].”
But Jones says the difference in Italy is that institutional figures often unconsciously repeat racism, saying, “We have a lot of black players, etc.” Jones was not speaking about any specific incident but in general terms.

Jones says, “There is a perception that other skin colors are somehow subhuman – rarely granted citizenship, often exploited by gang bosses and mostly exploited by right-wing politicians to garner votes.” Is ridiculed as such.”

‘Absolutely shameful’

Maignan’s incident comes 11 years after another AC Milan star – midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng – made history by walking off the field during a friendly match after enduring 25 minutes of abuse.

At the time, the FIGC vowed to implement zero tolerance measures, but the abuses show no signs of going away.

In 2014, then FIGC vice-president Carlo Tavecchio was sanctioned for racist remarks against black players. In an address regarding the lack of opportunity for young Italian players, he praised England for identifying talent at a young age.

“Instead we get ‘Opti Poba’ (an imaginary player) who used to eat bananas and then suddenly becomes a first-team player with Lazio,” Reuters quoted the 71-year-old as saying.

This comment did not go unpunished and Tavecchio was banned from FIFA leadership roles for six months.

He was appointed head of Lega Seria A in 2017, resigning a year later when Italy failed to qualify for the World Cup in Russia. He died in January 2023.

However his comments sparked a new phase of racism against black players, which included fans making monkey noises and throwing banana peels onto the pitch.

In 2019, Italian football faced an unprecedented increase in racism across the country and Serie A decided to launch an anti-racism initiative to deal with the increase in incidents.

However, in what was a widely criticized move, Serie A launched an ill-advised campaign featuring artwork of monkey faces with different team color schemes. The intention was that all players be equal, but the reaction was immediate.

Anti-discrimination organization FIRE said at the time, “These compositions are an outrage, they will be counter-productive and continue the dehumanization of people of African heritage.”

“It is difficult to see what Serie A was thinking, who did they consult? Now is the time for the progressive clubs of the league to raise their voice.

Boateng, who has become an advocate against discrimination, said he believes the latest attack on Magnan shows that nothing has changed in the country.

“There has been a slight change? I would say zero,” Boateng, who is now retired, told Gazzetta dello Sport.

“If the Milan goalkeeper had to leave the field, it means that nothing has happened. “Now that’s not a sad thing, it’s just shameful.”

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Rome-based club Lazio made headlines in 2017 when a group of its fans superimposed the faces of rivals AS Roma’s players over photos of the body of Holocaust victim Anne Frank.

He made headlines again in January this year when he hurled racist insults at a pair of Lecce’s black players: French international Samuel Umtiti – who now plays for Ligue 1 club Lille – and his Zambian teammate, Lameck Banda, who Left the field in tears.

During the incident, the match was delayed while organizers called on fans to stop misbehaving. However those fans did not stop, Lecce fans drowned them with chants of support.

After the match, Lazio said in a statement: “Lazio fans are not racist and cannot be associated with certain individuals who seriously damage the club’s image.

“Lazio has always opposed all forms of racism and discrimination by all means available. The Club, as always, will offer maximum cooperation to the authorities to identify those responsible.

After the Magnan incident in January, Infantino posted on Instagram: “Let’s shout it loud and clear: No to racism! The vast majority of fans, who are good people, stand up to shut the mouths of all racists once and for all!

Infantino also wrote that “good fans” should take more initiative to shame racist people.

This week, it was widely reported that Maignan, who is under contract with AC Milan until 2026, is in talks with the Serie A club about a new deal, amid interest from other major European clubs.

But moral authority appears to be lacking, at least in Udine, if the 28-year-old Frenchman ultimately decides to leave Serie A. Who can blame the ugly streak running through Italy’s beautiful game.

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