Monday 17 February, 2020

Serie A under fire over monkeys painting in anti-racism campaign

In this Saturday, November 9, 2019 file photo, Brescia's Mario Balotelli, center, walks on the pitch during the Serie A match between Brescia and Torino at the Mario Rigamonti Stadium in Brescia, Italy. (Photo:AP)

In this Saturday, November 9, 2019 file photo, Brescia's Mario Balotelli, center, walks on the pitch during the Serie A match between Brescia and Torino at the Mario Rigamonti Stadium in Brescia, Italy. (Photo:AP)

Serie A said “true art is provocation” after being criticized as insensitive toward racism for installing a painting at the Italian league's headquarters featuring three monkeys to represent three different races.

While black players are regularly subjected to monkey chants in games, artist Simone Fugazzotto said his painting was meant “to show that we are all the same race."

The league used the painting at a presentation of its anti-racism campaign in Milan, and Fare, soccer's leading discrimination monitoring group, called it "a sick joke."

"True art is provocation," the league said in a statement to The Associated Press late Monday. “The idea behind Fugazzotto’s artwork is that whoever shouts racist chants regresses to his primitive status of being a monkey.

“Serie A decided that every year it will have a different artist interpret the damage caused by racism," the league added. "Simone Fugazzotto, a witness to the whistles at (Napoli defender Kalidou) Koulibaly at the San Siro, made a provocative work in which the monkeys are actually the racist fans.”

Racism has been a problem all season with offensive chants aimed at Romelu Lukaku, Franck Kessie, Dalbert Henrique, Miralem Pjanic, Ronaldo Vieira, Koulibaly and Mario Balotelli. All of the players targeted — except for Pjanic, who is Bosnian — are black, and many of the incidents have gone unpunished.

“Once again Italian football leaves the world speechless," Fare tweeted. “In a country in which the authorities fail to deal with racism week after week Serie A have launched a campaign that looks like a sick joke.”

The painting was made for last season's Italian Cup final.

“I immediately thought to paint a western monkey, an Asian monkey and a black monkey, because I would like to change people's perceptions by my work,” Fugazzotto said. “My paintings fully reflect the values of fair play and tolerance. I use monkeys as a metaphor for human beings because the color of our skin is not important.”

Serie A CEO Luigi De Siervo said the league's commitment against prejudice was strong.

“We know that racism is an endemic and very complex problem, which we will tackle on three different levels; the cultural one, through works like that of Simone; the sporting one, with a series of initiatives together with clubs and players, and the repressive one, thanks to collaboration with the police,” De Siervo said.

But Fare called the painting “an outrage,” adding that it "will be counter-productive and continue the dehumanisation of people of African heritage. ... It is difficult to see what Serie A was thinking, who did they consult? It is time for the progressive clubs in the league to make their voice heard.”

Also during the presentation of anti-racism initiatives on Monday, De Siervo said league officials were developing facial recognition technology to identify fans responsible for racist chants.

“We’re working on facial recognition software to use inside the stadiums,” he said. “We’re still awaiting authorization from privacy authorities but we should be able to get that with the help of the government. Once those images are available, clubs will have to intervene directly.”

The league also nominated one player from each of the 20 clubs to join an anti-racism team.

“We’re going to do in two years what (former British prime minister Margaret) Thatcher did in 10,” De Siervo said, referring to the battle against hooliganism in English stadiums in the 1980s.

Also this season, the Italian soccer federation said it was considering employing advanced listening devices used in anti-terrorism operations to identify offending fans.

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