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Serie A boss sorry for anti-racism campaign with monkeys

December 18, 2019

The CEO of Italy's top football league has apologized for the use of paintings depicting "western, Asian and black monkeys" in an anti-racism campaign. Critics have condemned the artwork as a "sick joke."

Italien Rom | Luigi de Siervo | Chef der Serie A im italienischen Fußball
Image: picture-alliance/ZUMAPRESS/LaPresse/V. Portelli

Serie A boss Luigi De Siervo offered his "sincere apologies" late on Tuesday after initially having defended the artwork, which had been used to launch an anti-racism campaign at the league's main headquarters in Milan a little more than 24 hours earlier. 

"I realized it was inappropriate," he said. "What cannot be questioned is the strong and constant condemnation by Lega Serie A against all forms of discrimination and racism, and we are committed to eradicate this from our beloved league."

De Siervo added in a statement sent to DW that the campaign featuring artist Simone Fugazzotto's work will be presented in its final form by the end of February.

The artwork was commissioned following ongoing accusations of racism within Italian football.

"With this trio of paintings, I would like to show that we are all the same race," artist Fugazzotto said.

"In fact, when the Lega commissioned a work against racism last May, I immediately thought to paint a western monkey, an Asian monkey and a black monkey, because I would like to change people's perceptions by my work," he added.

Read more: Georginio Wijnaldum on racism in football: 'I would walk off the field'

'Some have given up on Serie A'

The artwork has received a great deal of criticism on social media, for example from Football Against Racism Europe (FARE) who called the artwork a "sick joke" and an "outrage" on Twitter. The organization told DW on Tuesday that the campaign reinforced the confusion around the debate in Italy and that it was hard to take the country's fight against racism seriously.

"We know that the lack of insights, the lack of real work and the continuing presence of racism at so many matches damages Serie A," their statement read. 

"It’s remarkable to think that this is one of Europe’s top five leagues and they struggle to engage on even a basic level on such a critical issue. We know that some players, some sponsors, and increasing numbers of fans and TV audiences have already given up on Serie A." 

'Lack of consultation'

One of the country's leading clubs, AS Roma, said it was "very surprised to see what appears to be an anti-racist campaign featuring painted monkeys on social media today."

"We understand the league wants to tackle racism but we don't believe this is the right way to do it," the club said on its English-language Twitter feed. AC Milan have also condemned the campaign, tweeting: "Art can be powerful, but we strongly disagree with the use of monkeys as images in the fight against racism and were surprised by the total lack of consultation."

While the clubs admitted they were shocked not to be asked for their opinion, Gerd Wagner, a racism expert from one of Frankfurt's Fan Projects, said that for these campaigns to mean anything, those who watch the games needed to be consulted.

"Campaigns are only credible if they are developed together with the fans and fan initiatives or if they are at least supported by the fans," he told DW. "Changes resulting from the dynamics of a fan group will be more easily accepted than those that come from the associations, which are perceived as imposed measures."

Earlier in December an Italian sports newspaper came under fire for the headline "Black Friday" next to images of two black Serie A footballers while players such as Mario Balotelli and Romelu Lukaku have been the victims of racist taunts from the stands.

ed,mp/pfd (dpa, AP)

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