Last night’s friendly match between Italy and Romania was marred by racist incidents directed at Mario Balotelli. These incidents were reported widely by international media from Europe to North America and across the Southern Hemisphere.
The abuse in the form of monkey noises and booing was disappointing and truly shocking as all such incidents are.
However, the media reports, including from usually reliable sources such as the BBC, missed an important step forward in the fight against racism inside stadiums: the game opened with players of both teams together holding a huge banner which read Love football, no violence, no racism.
The initiative involved both the Italian and Romanian football federations working together with my Bucharest-based organization.
Three days earlier, the same banner was displayed at a football tournament for children in Bucharest, Romania.
Some 250 children, aged 9 – 11, in 23 teams, many from disadvantaged families and of Roma origin, played in an event This was the 9th tournament against violence and discrimination organised in Romania, and was part of the “REACT! Make Europe an equal place for Roma ” campaign.
Against the highly visible background of the incidents in Klagenfurt these actions might seem piecemeal and insignificant but as any activist in this field will know we can only develop initiatives and actions, ultimately our work is long term and will often be overtaken by the social environment being created around us.
As Daniel Prodan the Director of International Relations for the Romanian FA told me earlier, “This unfortunate incident during a friendly match between Italy and Romania demonstrates once again that constant efforts are needed to combat racism and violence in the stadiums.
“The Romanian Football Federation is taking both racism and violence on stadiums very seriously and we will continue to invest all our efforts to curb this phenomenon.”
My view is that some football governing bodies are on the right path and taking a leading role when it comes to sanctioning and tackling racism. We should give those that take the right steps some acknowledgment.
Sports, and football in particular, is an excellent tool to promote social dialogue and inclusion, but we need much stronger involvement of the political class before we will see a major change.
If governments would follow what UEFA and some national football federations are doing to sanction these phenomena, such a change will come much faster than most of us expect.
Valeriu Nicolae is the Director of the Policy Center for Roma and Minorities and a member of the FARE network board – Policy Centre for Roma and Minorities