As an Italian sports journalist currently based in London, I noticed last week that most of the coverage of Corriere dello Sport’s controversial ‘Black Friday’ headline revealed that people in England actually know very little about its editor, Ivan Zazzaroni.
The Italian daily newspaper ran the headline with photos of Inter Milan striker Romelu Lukaku and Roma defender Chris Smalling to preview the match between the two sides at the San Siro 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
A week has passed and the newspaper has not done anything about the headline yet.
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. During a youth level match between Aurora Desio Calcio and Sovicese, one of the kids was subjected to racist abuse by one of the parents of the opposite team.
In this context, 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it actually reveals that institutional racism is still a problem in the Italian media and that Zazzaroni himself has outdated views on a whole range of social issues.
When I read the headline I was not surprised at all, because 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 that exists in Italy. In his defence, Zazzaroni said that he was only going to talk about football and his participation was not to be seen as an endorsement to CasaPound or its racist policies. 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 the poll agency SWG shows that 10 percent of the people questioned find racist episodes always justifiable while 45 percent find racist incidents acceptable depending on the situation. For the first time in 10 years, the majority of the people questioned in the survey find racism acceptable with only the 45 percent of the people finding racist acts always unacceptable.
He also holds antiquated views on the other social issues too. Last year, during the television show ‘Dancing with the stars’ where Zazzaroni has been a judge for over 10 years, he refused to vote the only same-sex couple in the competition because he said that it was “aesthetically unpleasant” to see two men dancing with each other.
Zazzaroni has yet to apologise for his headline.
“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? Why should I explain myself to the people on the internet?” 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 that some social media users were just trying to gain popularity going against the newspaper and that 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 language or racist tropes.
In many ways Zazzaroni represents a disturbing trend in Italian society where is becoming increasingly acceptable to express racist views in public.
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 and influential positions are clear that it will not be tolerated. The newspaper should take responsibility, apologise with the players and anyone else who found it offensive and fire its editor.