Tiémoué Bakayoko’s has had an excellent season at AC Milan, arriving as an unneeded loanee from Chelsea, making a terrible first impression on the pitch, and then working his way into becoming one of the first names of Gennaro Gattuso’s team sheets. It’s fantastic story of redemption, second-chances, working hard, and not giving up.
Sadly, the Bakayoko story has become dominated by something entirely different, racial abuse.
The 24-year-old midfielder has been repeatedly abused by Lazio fans over the course of several games, in both legs of their Coppa Italia semifinal against Milan, as well as in the matches in between, against Udinese and Chievo. On Wednesday, Lazio fans abused Bakayoko (and Kessié, too, we should not forget) throughout the day, spewing vile racist abuse “for Bakayoko” before the game, after the game, while also making Fascist salutes and unfurling a banner “honoring” Benito Mussolini in Milan’s Piazzale Loreto.
Sadly, as shocking as those scenes and incidents may be, the response form the Italian Footballers’ Association (FIGC) has been even more reprehensible.
The match last week saw Bakayoko and teammate Franck Kessié engage in some unfortunate unsportsmanlike conduct at the end of the match, seemingly ridiculing Lazio midfielder Francesco Acerbi, who had engaged in a bit of social media banter beforehand, by holding up his shirt and effectively taunting him. The two players quickly realized the error of their ways, apologized, the whole nice yards. The FIGC still came down hard on them, fining both players €33k, plus Milan an extra €20k, and issued a strongly worded judgement.
“Personally I had never seen such a superficial, light gesture against every fair-play label. The exchange of jerseys has always been a moment of enormous significance for me a very competitive world. For a sportsman, there is no greater gratification than a colleague’s esteem. The heirloom becomes the emblem of the ‘I played with...’ that smacks of history and of ‘I will be able to tell my children ‘. Francesco Acerbi’s 33 [shirt] has become, for a few minutes, the opposite of what it is.
”This is why the gesture made by Kessie and Bakayoko is as incomprehensible as it is depressing. They understood it too late, but they understood it and we are all aware of the slip they made.”
-Damian Tommasi; President FIGC; source: JOE
One would think that if the FIGC made such a big deal out of a shirt swap and some taunting, they would throw the book at Lazio for incessant, obvious, shameless racist chanting and abuse, right?
Probably no one’s surprised that the FIGC did nothing — NOTHING — so far. Nothing. Not a thing. And the fact that we’re not surprised at the FIGC’s inaction is perhaps the worst part of it all. They have so much history of practically ignoring any and all abuse, which in turn enables nonsense like Moise Kean’s own teammate, Leonardo Bonucci blaming him “50-50” for receiving racial abuse just the other week, that it’s become as incomprehensible as it is par for the course.
Will they do anything this time? Will they ever?
Quick reminder: Italian rules state the referee cannot stop play for racist abuse. Only the person in charge of public safety and security can do that. Their main priority is preventing a riot, so very unlikely to stop play. #MilanLazio #CoppaItalia— footballitalia (@footballitalia) April 24, 2019
Raheem Sterling recently advocated for an automatic nine-point deduction for any team whose fans engage in racial abuse. In Lazio’s case, that may not even be enough. This is a team with a strong history of such fan-behavior. Even today, Lazio’s immediate response was to shift responsibility away from themselves.
“The club distances ourselves from the behaviour and demonstrations that do not reflect in any way the values of sport promoted by this club for 119 years
“We reject and dispute the simplistic tendency of some media outlets that consider the entire Lazio support responsible for the acts of a few isolated individuals.
“The club have always fought for respect, for legality and for correct conduct.”
There’s so much work to do here, it boggles the mind. But we must persevere and continue to work to affect the change we want to see in the world.