A candidate for president of the Italian football federation made a racist remark, and it doesn't matter. AC Milan still support Carlo Tavecchio.
The whole episode started on Friday when Tavecchio was making a point about foreigners. The Guardian has the quotes:
England identifies the players coming in and, if they are professional, they are allowed to play. Here, on the other hand, let's say there's [fictional player] Opti Poba, who has come here, who previously was eating bananas and now is a first-team player for Lazio... In England he has to demonstrate his CV and his pedigree.
Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani called it an "unfortunate phrase" in an interview with Sky Sport Italia (h/t Football Italia) and said it ended there.
Galliani, like many other pro clubs in Italy, is still standing by the 71-year-old Tavecchio, despite a petition online asking for him to withdraw his candidacy, despite FIFA writing a letter to the Italian FA imploring them to investigate on the matter, despite the utterly gross and disgusting nature of the comment itself.
Tavecchio apologized—kind of. He boasts of the things he's done for the "Third World," according to The Guardian.
Lazio's Joseph Minala, a black 17-year-old, told ANSA (h/t Football Italia) that he is "grateful" to Tavecchio, "who helped me when I arrived from Africa and was abandoned by an agent." (It helps that Lazio's president Claudio Lotito, according to Football Italia, is the strongest supporter of Tavecchio.)
And yet—even though another video posted by Tuttosport shows Tavecchio claiming women are "handicapped" in sports, per Football Italia—he will probably win the election on 11 August. Former AC Milan midfielder and current federation vice-president Demetrio Albertini is the only other candidate.
Albertini wants to reduce the number of Serie A teams to 18, and he wants teams to stay financially stable, unlike Padova and Siena, two clubs that recently went bankrupt.
Albertini actually wants change in a country where stadiums are inadequate, in a country where attendance is falling and fans are violent.
Of course, Galliani and Milan decided not to back a former player, someone with an actual plan to restore Italian football.
They treat their legends like strangers. It happened with Paolo Maldini, who is essentially shut out of the club; it happened with Andrea Pirlo, who left for Juventus once he felt he was no longer valued at Milan; and it happened with Clarence Seedorf, who was fired months ago after an internal power struggle.
Serie A is an old boys' club where politics reign. And it is a shame: For so long, AC Milan set the standards for class. They put out some of the most ethnically diverse squads. Look at the current roster: Up front is Mario Balotelli, a firebrand and target of racism himself, and in goal is Christian Abbiati, an avowed fascist, per The Guardian.
Players from Africa, Eastern Europe, Asia, Scandinavia and the United States have played for Milan. They did not close the doors to anyone of any colour or background, as long as the club thought they could play. This was the most popular Italian team ever, marketed the best of all Serie A clubs.
Seedorf, even if briefly, was the second black man to coach a Serie A side. Milan were always progressive, always inclusive.
They also dealt with racism swiftly and professionally.
When Kevin-Prince Boateng walked off the field in a friendly in January 2013, the rest of the team followed. He would not tolerate the racist chants from a section of supporters of the home team Pro Patria. Before leaving, Boateng picked up the ball and kicked it in their direction.
"I hope this can be an important signal," former Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri said after the match (h/t The Guardian).
And it was. Six Pro Patria fans were sentenced to jail, according to ANSA (h/t ESPNFC), and Boateng was named on FIFA's anti-racism task force.
But it happened twice more. Kevin Constant walked off the field last year during a preseason match against Sassuolo, but this time the team did not follow.
"There is solidarity with Constant," said Galliani (h/t the Daily Mail), "but it is not OK to leave the pitch. I have told him, repeated it and written it to everyone: You can't leave the pitch."
Constant was targeted again in this May when an Atalanta supporter threw a banana on the pitch. Teammates Nigel de Jong and Philippe Mexes applauded back ironically, but the team continued the game and the in-stadium announcer warned the fans over a loudspeaker.
"I can only compliment my team because they continued playing," former Milan coach Seedorf added (h/t The Guardian).
"I don't need to comment on the rest. Constant and his teammates reacted in the best way by carrying on with their work. I hope they find the culprit and do what they have to do."
So the club drew hard lines. There were rules to follow and ways to act in these situations.
But their stance wobbled when one of their own made a racist comment.
The brother of Silvio Berlusconi, Paolo, called Balotelli at a conference last year "negretto di famiglia"—translated as "the family's little n*****," per The Independent.
Milan did not make an immediate comment following the incident, and in the end the club posted a picture of Balotelli and Paolo Berlusconi shaking hands, sweeping the rest away, denying any controversy. (FIFA president Sepp Blatter would have been proud. He once said that players should settle any racism with handshakes, per The Guardian.)
Because according to Paolo (h/t the Daily Mail), the term was an affectionate one. And that was that.
Milan took such exception when Balotelli was abused by fans, and yet they cowered in the face of racism when it came from someone close to them.
In the biggest moments, in the truly toughest hours, they stopped fighting. It's all politics in the end, and that is not completely surprising of a club with an owner who is still trying to make a comeback in Italian parliament despite losing his seat after multiple convictions.
And now Milan support an alleged racist. Forget the poor results: This club has lost almost everything it once stood for.