As an Italian journalist in London, I noticed that most of the UK coverage of controversial ‘Black Friday’ headline provided little context about the newspaper’s editor, Ivan Zazzaroni.
Corriere dello Sport ran the headline with photos of Inter Milan striker Romelu Lukaku and Roma defender Chris Smalling to preview the match between the two sides last Friday night.
Zazzaroni’s headline unsurprisingly created controversy, with both players denouncing it as offensive. Lukaku said it was the dumbest headline he has ever seen, while Smalling described it “highly insensitive,” and asked the newspaper to take responsibility for it.
— Chris Smalling (@ChrisSmalling) December 5, 2019
This headline follows hot on the heels of a series of racist incidents in Italian football where numerous black players have been targeted including Lukaku, AC Milan midfielder Franck Kessié, Fiorentina left-back Dalbert Henrique and Brescia striker Mario Balotelli. These episodes, unfortunately, are not unique to Serie A games but are happening more frequently also at youth level.
The ‘Black Friday’ headline has been seen as the height of ignorance, but it actually reveals that institutional racism is still a problem in the Italian media and that Zazzaroni has outdated views on a whole range of social issues.
When I read the headline I was not surprised – Zazzaroni has never been the most open-minded of journalists. This latest episode follows his recent participation in a football conference by CasaPound.
CasaPound is the closest thing to a neo-fascist political party in Italy. Defending himself, Zazzaroni said he was only going to talk about football and his participation was not an endorsement to CasaPound’s ideals. But viewed in the context of ‘Black Friday’, it’s difficult not to conclude that he has a problem with ‘race’.
Zazzaroni’s views are not unusual in Italy. A recent survey by SWG shows that 10 per cent of the people questioned find racist episodes always justifiable while 45 per cent find racist incidents acceptable depending on the situation. Only 45 per cent of the people questioned find racism always unacceptable.
He also holds antiquated views on other social issues too. Last year, during a dancing television show where Zazzaroni has been a judge for over 10 years, he refused to vote the only same-sex couple in the competition saying it was “aesthetically unpleasant” to see two men dancing together.
A week has passed, the newspaper has done nothing about it and Zazzaroni has yet to apologise.
“Can anyone explain to me the racism in the title? Do you have any idea of how many similar titles I have published in the past 40 years? ” he told a radio show.
Convocato il direttore @CorSport Ivan #Zazzaroni che risponde alle critiche sul titolo di oggi "Black Friday": "Qualcuno mi spiega il significato razzista di questo titolo? Sai quanti ne ho fatti di titoli così in 40 anni? Perchè devo spiegare questa cosa al web?"
— Tutti Convocati (@tutticonvocati) December 5, 2019
Simply because 40 years ago this title was acceptable, it does not mean it is acceptable today.
He then said the headline was misunderstood because people on social media have prejudices towards him. He added no one can say he is racist because the newspaper stood against racism every time it was necessary.
For English football fans, this is akin to the Ron Atkinson defence. Just because you can point to a positive record in the past, does not excuse using bigoted or racist language.
While some people in Italy believe the front-page headline was merely a clumsy play on words, I think it was an act of racism from an individual who has a track record of prejudice. Racism in Italy can only be tackled if people in leadership positions are clear that it will not be tolerated. The newspaper should take responsibility, apologise and fire its editor.