France Angered By Italy Senator’s Racist Soccer Slur

Reuters, Jul 11, 2006

Rome—France has complained to World Cup winner Italy about a right-wing senator’s racist comments that the defeated French team was made up of “blacks, Muslims and communists”, the Italian media reported on Tuesday.

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As the victorious Azzurri returned to a heroes’ welcome in Rome on Monday, Calderoli celebrated it as a “political victory” over a mixed-race French team.

Italy had “beat a team which, in the quest for results, sacrificed its own identity by selecting blacks, Muslims and communists”, the senator said, in comments that were rejected by members of Italy’s new centre-left coalition government.

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ANSA, Rome—Controversial ex-minister Roberto Calderoli was at the centre of a fresh storm on Tuesday after making derogatory comments about France’s national soccer team .

In a statement issued Monday in celebration of Italy’s World Cup defeat of France, deputy Senate speaker Calderoli said the French team was made up of “blacks, Muslims and Communists”, sparking protests from the French Embassy .

Calderoli is a leading member of the regionalist Northern League, one of the four parties in the centre-right opposition headed by former premier Silvio Berlusconi .

He was forced to resign from the Berlusconi government earlier this year after he appeared on television wearing a T-shirt printed with cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad .

In his World Cup statement, Calderoli held up the Italian victory as a “triumph of our identity”—a phrase which was already unusual for an anti-Rome party which fiercely champions devolution .

“A team which fielded Lombards, Campanians, Venetians and Calabrians won against a team which sacrificed its identity for results by fielding blacks, Muslims and Communists,” he said .

Calderoli said the new centre-left government headed by Premier Romano Prodi “would very probably have supported this France with no identity and the headbutts of Zidane” .

The 50-year-old senator, whose party was once in favour of northern secession, also indirectly insulted the southern half of Italy .

“I’ve spent a lifetime trying to get it through that if the South runs, sweats, struggles and works, then the whole country can win,” he said .

French ambassador Yves Aubin de La Messuziere immediately fired off a letter of protest to the Italian Senate saying that such “unacceptable and despicable” comments could “only foment hatred” .

“France is proud of a team whose members are all its sons, whatever their origins, religions or beliefs… and who all bear witness to our motto of liberty, equality and fraternity,” the ambassador said .

He noted that some of the players insulted by Calderoli played in Italy where they were “very popular” .

Parties in the governing coalition also condemned Calderoli and called on him to apologise .

The centre-left Daisy party said the senator’s words were “irresponsible and disgusting” and demanded that the opposition “distance itself from these racist, xenophobic tones” .

The Green party blasted Calderoli as “no better than the Ku Klux Klan” while the Communist Refoundation Party said that his comments were an “embarrassing disgrace” .

Calderoli lost his post as reform minister in the Berlusconi government last February after he sported a T-shirt emblazoned with the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad which at the time were causing a wave of international Muslim protests .

Calderoli’s act was followed by violent demonstrations in Libya in which the Italian consulate in Benghazi was attacked. Some 15 people were killed after local police opened fire on a crowd trying to storm the consulate .

The Italian and Libyan authorities said afterwards that the demonstrations were not in protest at Calderoli but in support of Libyan demands for reparations for the colonial period. Prior to the cartoon incident, Calderoli fuelled a row over the exclusion of immigrants from a government handout for new-born babies by calling the immigrant applicants “Ali Babas” who were stealing houses and jobs from native Italians .

He has also come under fire for anti-gay comments .

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