Antisemitism in European soccer stadiums is not a new phenomenon, and in Italy in particular there have been recurring incidents in recent years, causing great distress and embarrassment to the local sports league. Now, it seems that the Italian government has decided to take matters into its own hands.
On Tuesday, in the presence of Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi, Italy signed a declaration of intent, outlining steps to eradicate the taint of antisemitism once and for all.
The country's bad reputation in this area derives from expressions of antisemitism and racial incitement, disgraceful chants directed toward Black players, and the use of the word "Jew" as a derogatory term between fans of rival teams, as well as the widespread use of Nazi symbols by extremist fans. These events occur far too often in Italy's stadiums.
At a ceremony in Rome on Monday, attended by Italy's sports minister and the president of the Italian Football Federation, the new policy was introduced.
The letter of intent states that soccer players in Italy will be banned from wearing No. 88 on their team jerseys, which is a numerical code for “Heil Hitler.”
Several senior players in the Serie A league have worn this problematic number over the years, sparking harsh criticism. Among them is legendary goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon in the 2000/01 season when he played for Serie B club Parma. Buffon later denied any connection to antisemitism, but was still forced to give up the jersey and switch to number 77.
In Serie A, two players – Mario Pašalić and Toma Bašić from Lazio – wore the number 88 jersey in the past season. Both Croatian players will be required to choose a new number.
Fans could receive lifetime bans
Furthermore, the use of flags, symbols, shirts and banners with antisemitic content or content that may incite antisemitism will be completely prohibited. In recent years, there has been an increase in cases where Lazio fans, many of whom are known to be right-wing extremists, repeatedly made derogatory chants and used the name of teen Holocaust diarist Anne Frank to attack Roma fans or other rivals. Additionally, many Lazio fans tend to salute with an outstretched arm, recognized as the Nazi salute, as a sign of identification with Mussolini's fascist regime.
In last season's most recent derby match against Roma, a fan was documented wearing a jersey with the number 88 and the name "Hitlerson." The image went viral on social media and caused a major uproar. Ruth Dureghello, the president of Rome's Jewish community, spoke out about the scandal and wrote on Twitter, "...Is it possible that everyone keeps ignoring this?"
Lazio later said that the three fans – one who wore the shirt and two others who performed the Nazi-associated salutes – would be banned for life from attending any games at the Stadio Olimpico.
The new policy is expected to require immediate suspensions of games in cases where fans are persistent in expressing or singing antisemitic chants, and displaying symbols with antisemitic content.