There is the elephant in the room that the Italian football hierarchy continues to ignore and it seems unlikely that anything will be done to properly address the problem.
Racism has been prevalent in Italy but incidents involving such discrimination have been increasing significantly and Cagliari have arguably become the worst offenders in recent years.
Hypocritical Isolani supporters who racially abused Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku in their 2-1 defeat to the Nerazzurri in Serie A on Sunday evening should be ashamed of their actions and for giving their fanbase a bad image.
Although a brush should not be painted on all Cagliari fans, it is evident that certain supporters of the Sardinian club do not know about or they want to ignore the perceptions of Sardinia and its people in the past.
Looking at recent events, the Isolani fans have become known for abusing or taunting black players and the latest incident was when Inter were awarded a controversial penalty after Rossoblu defender Fabio Pisacane was adjudged to have tripped Nerazzurri midfielder Stefano Sensi in the box.
Lukaku stepped up the take the penalty and converted it, but while that was going on, a section of Cagliari fans behind the goal was making monkey noises to psychologically affect him. To make matters worse, the FIGC has blocked footage of the incident online because of, in its words, copyright issues.
Unfortunately, banning footage of the incident is a poor reflection on the FIGC and lack of punishment for previous racism rows makes Italy look like a football pariah. The image of Italian football has suffered constant damage since the 2006 Calciopoli scandal and failing to deal with racism further tarnishes it.
Sadly, the racism incident at the Cagliari v Inter match was not a one-off. In April, some Isolani fans were taunting then-Juventus striker Moise Kean until he scored the Bianconeri’s second goal. Worst of all, he was accused by his own teammate Leonardo Bonucci for provoking greater reactions with his goal celebration.
French international Blaise Matuidi, the midfielder from Juventus with Angolan and Congolese origins, was also the victim of racial abuse from some of the Sardinian crowd in January 2018, and Pescara’s Ghanaian midfielder Sulley Muntari walked off the pitch against the Cagliaritani in 2017 but he was punished for reporting the abuse and suspended for one match!
The racist chants by Cagliari fans are perplexing because they have been victims too and Sardinia has been portrayed badly in the past. Even club legend Luigi “Gigi” Riva, who is from northern Italy, was reluctant to move to the island at first.
“It seemed like Africa to me,” he said. “The island where they sent people in order to punish them!”
Former Italy goalkeeper Enrico Albertosi was also reluctant to leave Fiorentina for Cagliari before he arrived in 1968. He said, “When I first heard of Cagliari’s interest, I didn’t want to go, because in Florence we’d always joked that Sardinia was a penal colony.”
Italian writer Stefano Boldrini also said that Riva’s heroics had “forced shepherds to buy transistor radios so that they could follow Cagliari”.
Attitudes as well as perceptions changed and Riva went on to becoming a club legend, winning the 1969/70 Serie A title with them and stayed at the club until he retired in 1976, rejecting multiple moves to Juventus in the process and representing his adopted home with pride.
“I would have earned triple [win wages],” Riva said. “But Sardinia had made me a man. It was my land. In those days, they called us shepherds and bandits around Italy. I was 23 and the great Juve wanted to cover me in money. I wanted the Scudetto for my land. We did it, the bandits and shepherds.”
Riva and his Cagliari side showed that there was more to Sardinia than sheep and pecorino cheese. In addition to his heroics, the Isolani have left other good impressions on Italian football by reaching the 1993/94 UEFA Cup semi-finals and launching the Serie A coaching careers of Claudio Ranieri and Massimiliano Allegri.
Italian football needs a more positive image of Cagliari but some of their racist fans need to be punished severely because ignoring their abusive attitudes and regressive mentalities only worsens the dilemma.
By the same token, those racists should also realise that just because their people endured discrimination, it is not OK to discriminate against others, especially those who have not hurt them.