Football does a strong line in shooting itself in the foot, those decisions where not only has the right answer been missed but left waiting in a different postcode. Decisions so bad that even the mildly suspicious may suspect mismanagement by design rather than sheer incompetence.
On Sunday, Pescara’s Sulley Muntari was booked for dissent by referee Daniele Minelli after complaining to the official about racist abuse he had received throughout the game.
Two minutes later, as the chanting continued, Muntari left the field and subsequently received a second yellow card.
A mistake, then. A catastrophic error from an official who completely misjudged the situation and its context within Italian football. As per Serie A’s guidelines, Minelli should have informed the fourth official of the abuse, who should have relayed it to security staff in the stadium. The miscalculation needed addressing, overturning and apologising for. This is why the Serie A’s disciplinary committee exists, after all.
They meet every Tuesday to discuss notable events from the weekend’s action. They are the league’s wrong-righters.
Or not, as it happens. Not only did the panel uphold Muntari’s one-game ban for his two bookings, but also decided to take no further action against Cagliari. The committee did agree that the actions of Cagliari supporters were deplorable – ‘Guys, we’re not complete decency vacuums’ – but said that number of fans partaking (“approximately 10”) constituted less than 1% of the supporters in the ground.
That’s a paragraph you really do have to read through twice to remember we are not dealing with some parodical vision of the game. Banning players for racism is a storyline written by a staunch rugby (and anti-football) fan to inaccurately pass comment on football’s supposed flaws. But this time it’s true.
It would be interesting to know what constitutes enough racism to prompt action, maybe something the committee could discuss over coffee and mints. If 10 people screaming vile abuse at one player over the course of 90 minutes isn’t a hate crime according to these over-puddinged men in suits, they must surely have suffered worse. Either that or they are a deep-rooted part of the problem they were designed to solve.
The most heartbreaking aspect of this abject affair is that Muntari gave his shirt to a young supporter, at the game with his parents, who had been chanting racial slurs at the Ghanaian. “There was a little kid doing it with his parents standing nearby,” said Muntari. “So I went over to him and told him not to do it. I gave him my shirt, to teach him that you’re not supposed to do things like that. I needed to set an example so he grows up to be nice.” Fighting hate with kindness, and still being punished. Why would you bother playing at all?
For all of English football’s problems, the eradication of such hateful incidents is a work in healthy progress. Despite headlines such as ‘Racism is rife in English football’ (in the Daily Mail!) in March 2015, there were only eight arrests made at Premier League games for racial abuse last season.
In Serie A, the picture is markedly different. In the same report that saw Muntari’s ban upheld, Lazio and Inter were found guilty of racist chanting against Antonio Rudiger and Kalidou Koulibaly respectively. It was added that up to 80% of a group of 7,000 Inter fans aimed racial slurs at Koulibaly.
We are not asking for much, just decency and common sense. Even if you consider this a wider societal issue within Italy (and that is undeniable), Serie A and the Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio (FIGC) have a duty to ensure that players of all races and ethnicities are given appropriate protection against abuse. Decisions such as these abandon that duty. Common sense is an endangered species, and nobody has spotted decency for a while.
For every step forward provided by an announced initiative or increased sanctions, incidents such as Muntari’s take us at least two steps backward. Rather than Juventus’ Champions League success, this is the defining story of this week in Italian football.
Football’s obsession du jour is with getting on-field decisions correct, either supporting or highlighting the mistakes of referees through video technology by eliminating the howlers. It’s a shame that we can’t move this frantic quest for righteousness from the micro to the macro of the sport.
It’s a shame too that nobody was filming that disciplinary committee as they discussed Muntari and Cagliari. Then we could replay their decision a thousand times in freeze frame, and pore over the incompetence. I only wish we’d seen them given.