Wednesday, September 27, 2006

La liberta e la cosa nostra

The English press likes to bang on about racism in football in latin countries, but it is sometimes blind to what goes on in its own back yard. Case in point: two weeks ago, Palermo visited West Ham in the first round of the UEFA Cup. Visiting fans were incensed by shirts on sale outside the ground reading: Hammers v. Mafia (how incensed were they? take a look at Palermo fans' post on a West Ham chat board here). Yet the incident passed without mention in England (would it have done so if Sicilians were black? Probably not.)

In fairness, the shirts were not sold by the club itself – in fact, West Ham is pursuing legal action against the T-shirt sellers, who operate from stalls outside the stadium. But the fact remains – English fans behaved badly and the English press overlooked it. The Italian press did not, with many politicians calling for an apology. The American press did not cover the initial incident, but did cover the furore in stories with such witty headlines as “Wear this shirt and sleep with the fishes”. (Do American sportswriters know how stupid they sound?)

Two responses from the Sicilians. The official one was brilliant. The President of the Sicilian region hosted an official welcome for the visiting Londoners and their fans, and handed out 4,000 free T-shirts in the Palermo team's pink colours reading: La mafia mi fa schivo. La liberta e' la cosa nostra (rough translation: The mafia make me sick. Freedom is our thing).

The unofficial one was less brilliant - West Ham arrived at their training ground yesterday to see two large banners unveiled, one of which read vinceremo senza l'aiuto della mafia (we'll win without the mafia's help) and "Welcome to Beautiful Mafia's Land". I think the latter was meant to be intimidating, but the mangling of the English - well known to anyone who has ever read a translated menu in an Italian restaurant - took the edge off somewhat.

(A complete tangent here: the most hilarious English translations in Europe are all in Italy. My favourite is a restaurant in Rome near La Sapienza where Penne al'arrabiata is translated as "Pens to the Angry One" and salsa al vino bianco is translated as "White man's wine sauce" [yes, I know, I had to think about that one too]. I nearly wet myself laughing.)

Meanwhile, though police quickly impounded the posters and the Sicilian regional president apologized profusely to West Ham for the incident, Palermo's president Maurizio Zamparini did the team and the region no favours in the PR department by saying he wished his team would lose this week because the squad isn't actually deep enough to compete both in Europe and in Italy, and he preferred to concentrate on Serie A. UEFA has yet to comment, but it is hard to see how fair play can be promoted when the guy playing the players' salaries says publicly he'd prefer his team not to win...

UPDATE: An alert correspondent informs me that the Italians - expats, anyways - are not entirely above reproach in this Mafia/football nexus issue. Some Italian stores in Toronto are sellin Godfather/World Cup-themes shirts with the slogan La Coppa Nostra. Arguably, Italians using mafia-related slur amongst themselves is the equivalent of blacks calling each other "nigger" - not offensive entre eux, but not helpful in dispelling stereotypes, either.

SECOND UPDATE: Oh NOW the English media pays attention. Some street violence in Palermo and all of a sudden it's OK to bring up the shirt incident...


Anonymous viagra online said...

Palermo is one of the most important teams in Italy, 2 Italian cup were won by Palermo fc, and West Ham is one of the traditional in England , so its means that this match was wonderful!22dd

2:33 PM  
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