Slurs against Jews in sport not racism, rules Italian judge
Two fans of the Italian Lazio soccer club acquitted by judge despite being caught on camera singing explicitly anti-Semitic chants at Roma fans; judge says it is ‘legitimate’ given historic antagonism between the team’; Jewish community leader warns of ‘dangerous precedent’ of ruling.
Members of the Italian Jewish community were disappointed to learn of a recent court ruling in Rome which saw the acquittal of two soccer fans from the S.S Lazio team after being filmed in 2013 calling out anti-Semitic chants.
The Lazio fans watched their team play against Calcio Catania, as they have done many times throughout the world, and cursed supporters of their urban opponents, Roma.
On March 30, 2013, closed-circuit cameras in the Stadio Olimpico captured the two screaming out the words “giallorosso ebreo,” Italian for “yellow-red Jew” in reference to the colors the club’s soccer kit.
Policemen brought the two suspects in for investigation shortly after and they later stood trial for “incitement and racial hatred.”
However, the judge appears to have acquitted the two on the grounds that the phrase “Jewish Roma supporter” does not constitute racism, but is rather an acceptable and legitimate term because of the “historic sports antagonism between the two urban teams.”
“This is merely sports ridicule,” the judge said before discharging the two. He even justified his decision by saying that on the same day, Roma fans were not even present in the stadium.
In its essence, the judgement appears to legitimize both abusive chants, including explicit expressions of anti-Semitism, as long as they are expressed within the domain of competitive sport.
The prosecution team’s case was not helped by the fact that the police found in the apartment of one of the defendants a cold weapon and posters and t-shirts identifying with the far right.
The head of the Jewish community in Rome, Ruth Dureghello, wrote Monday a scathing letter of protest against against the legal decision, pointing out: “This is, without doubt, an extremely dangerous precedent for justice in this country.”
Dureghello also explained that the ruling, in practice, lends legitimacy to using the word “Jew” in its most negative form for racist use and any other form of mockery in sports events.
Some solace could be found for the crestfallen Jewish community in the fact that the Italian Minister of Justice promised to look into the matter further, familiarize himself with the ruling and act accordingly if he deems necessary.
Moreover, a Foreign Affairs Committee of the Italian parliament supported the Jewish community and concluded that the ruling shows that “the judge is blind and deaf or worse.”