The loneliness of Zoro the defender29 November 2005

Marc André Zoro's gesture has seen a problem resurface that sport's governing bodies have seriously neglected and underestimated in recent years. The FC Messina defender screamed into our faces that racism is alive and kicking in Italian football and in society. His outcry was the desperate reaction of an injured player – not because he was insulted by the fans of the opposing team (in football this type of goading and abuse is normal, whether we like it or not), but because he was demeaned as a man, because he was regarded as an inferior being due to the colour of his skin, drawing on the very sad and familiar theory of the alleged superiority of the Aryan race.

We are not interested whether the monkey chants directed at him were the result of cold and calculated plans or a superficial student mind. For even inside a stadium, where ritual abuse and the freedom to insult are tolerated, they are an extreme political and ideological symbol.

We liked Zoro's response. We weren't so keen on the response of the other players, coaches and officials. They left him to his own devices. One person tried to calm him down; others pretended it was nothing. But no one joined him in his gesture. For us it would have been better if all the players had sat down for five minutes, their bronzed legs crossed and if the Inter players had talked to their fans while the Messina players painted their faces black, as their counterparts at FBC Treviso did a few years ago in a show of solidarity with their pal Omolade.

Precisely: FBC Treviso. That concrete, expressive gesture of solidarity unfortunately remains one of a kind in Italian football. What we have is the usual rhetoric: words of solidarity, adverts with softly filmed contours and now, in the wake of the emergency, another day against racism thanks to the efforts of the FIGC and the football league.

We don't wish to be overcritical. These things would all be good if they were part of a plan, if there were a certain continuity to them, i.e. if they lasted more than just a day, and if they concentrated rather more on substance and less on image.

We believe that more can be done against racism in football and that what is done can be done better. For years, this struggle has been driven forward by many different groups of supporters. They organise choreographies, attempt to drown out the racist abuse with their chants, and launch projects away from the stadium that aim to get immigrants involved. But that is not enough, partly because these efforts are very often not registered by the press. It is not enough because this problem should be regarded as such by all of us and because we need to hold a debate about possible solutions in which everyone as a say: black and white, players and fans, managers and media.

So we would like to see footballers get more involved and assume a greater presence. Because they are precisely the ones in the spotlight. It is their opinions that can reach young people, who see them as idols and role models. If players were to play a concrete role, it might be possible to achieve a breakthrough, to chart a narrow course we could follow with community and education schemes.

We would like to see the clubs do more than just place a few slogans against racism on their websites. It would be nice if they played an active role in some of the initiatives against racism, or launched initiatives of their own aimed at their fans. Finally, we would like to see the FIGC and the Italian league concentrate a little less on the courts and on broadcasting rights and instead pay serious attention to solid, concrete and sustainable projects designed to promote co-existence and counter all forms of discrimination in Italian football.

Progetto Ultrà – UISP