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Europe |​​NYT Now

Italian Soccer Has Too Many ‘Colored Players,’ Revered Coach Says

FEB. 17, 2015

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    Photo Two members of Inter Milan's youth team celebrate after winning the Viareggio Cup on Monday. Continue reading the main story Continue reading the main story

    Open Source

    By ROBERT MACKEY

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    After watching the final match of a prestigious tournament for young soccer players in Italy on Monday, the revered former coach of Italy’s national team, Arrigo Sacchi, told reporters that he had spotted just one problem with the winner: too many of the players were not white.

    In remarks captured on video, Mr. Sacchi, who took Italy to the World Cup final in 1994, argued that the presence of a large number of foreigners in the junior ranks of the nation’s professional clubs was hindering the development of young Italian players. In doing so, however, he referred not to the nationalities of the non-Italians, but to the color of their skin.

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    Remarks on foreigners playing soccer in Italy by Arrigo Sacchi, the former coach of the Italian national team. Tuttomercatoweb, via YouTube

    “Today, I watched the Viareggio Cup,” Mr. Sacchi, 68, said Monday night after the youth tournament. “I’m not racist, I had Rijkaard,” he said — referring to Frank Rijkaard, a Dutch player with roots in Suriname he once coached at A.C. Milan — “but to see so many colored players, to see so many foreigners, is an insult to Italian soccer.”

    Earlier in the interview, Mr. Sacchi called the use of more Italians and fewer foreigners by the current manager of A.C. Milan “fantastic.” He also suggested that the businessmen running Italy’s professional clubs, by signing so many foreign players, had demonstrated a lack of dignity and national pride.

    The team that won this year’s Viareggio Cup, drawn from Inter Milan’s youth squad, fielded one starter from Romania and four from Africa, including the scorer of the winning goal, the Ghanaian defender Bright Gyamfi. After the match, as one fan observed, the players posed together with the trophy in a joyous pile, seemingly oblivious to racial differences.

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    Sacchi saw this picture and said where's our pride? There are about six Blacks there, far too many. pic.twitter.com/eU4jS99nig

    — Terrence Clarke (@terrenceKC) Feb. 16, 2015
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    Tutta la gioia nerazzurra! #PrimaveraInter campione della #ViareggioCup! #ForzaInter! https://t.co/hZG4rWpELH

    — F.C. Internazionale (@Inter) Feb. 15, 2015

    After his comments caused an uproar on social networks — prompting rebukes from journalists, fans and former players across Europe — Mr. Sacchi told Gazzetta dello Sport, an Italian daily: “I’ve been misinterpreted, can you imagine that I’m really racist? All I said was I saw a game featuring a team that fielded four colored boys.”

    “My history speaks for itself,” he added, noting that he had coached professional teams with players of many races. “I only wanted to underline that we are losing our national pride and identity,” he said.

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    There are too many racists in Italian football.

    — Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) Feb. 16, 2015

    Among those who took issue with Mr. Sacchi’s comments was Mino Raiola, an agent who represents Mario Balotelli, an Italian star born in Sicily to parents from Ghana. Mr. Raiola wrote on Twitter that he was “ashamed to be Italian” when he heard Mr. Sacchi’s comments, and suggested that Italian soccer had “too many ignorant people in power.”

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    Remember, Sacchi knew nothing about these “coloured” players he was objecting to. For all he knew they could have been 3rd-gen Italians.

    — blitzen (@blitzen13) Feb. 16, 2015

    Like other players with African roots, Mr. Balotelli has had to endure racist taunts from Italian fans for years. Even when he represents his country, some supporters of the national team have chanted, “There is no such thing as a black Italian!”

    In 2012, Gazzetta dello Sport was forced to apologize for a cartoon that had depicted Mr. Balotelli as King Kong.

    As the British journalist Simon Kuper noted, it would be difficult for the new president of the Italian Soccer Federation, Carlo Tavecchio, to discipline Mr. Sacchi given that Mr. Tavecchio is currently serving a six-month suspension for having joked about clubs signing players from Africa whose only previous experience was eating bananas.

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    I expect that the president of the Italian FA, Carlo Tavecchio, will take firm action against Sacchi's racist comment. Err, hang on...

    — Simon Kuper (@KuperSimon) Feb. 16, 2015

    John Foot, a professor of modern Italian history and the author of “Calcio: A History of Italian Football,” pointed out that negative comments about people of African origin residing in Italy had come recently from sporting officials, fans, journalists and politicians who have all insisted that they were not racist.

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    1. Head of the Italian football federation talks about football players 'who used to eat bananas'...

    — John Foot (@footymac) Feb. 16, 2015
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    2. Former national team manager says 'too many blacks' in youth teams.

    — John Foot (@footymac) Feb. 16, 2015
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    3. Leading sports daily publishes cartoon of Balotelli as King Kong. All denied they were racist.

    — John Foot (@footymac) Feb. 16, 2015

    Simple lesson. 'Too many foreigners' = xenophobia. 'Too many black players' = racism. It's not an 'unfortunate expression', it's racist.

    — John Foot (@footymac) Feb. 16, 2015

    #auto

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