In Depth

Why everyone’s talking about Serie A’s chimpanzee poster

Top Italian football league under fire over ‘anti-racism’ campaign that uses images of apes

Bosses at Italy’s top football league are facing widespread criticism for using paintings of chimpanzees in a campaign designed to combat racism.

Italian football has been “blighted” by racist abuse in recent seasons, with players subjected to monkey chants and taunts, reports CNN.

Growing anger over the failure of the sport’s authorities to tackle the problem led Serie A to commission the newly unveiled initiative - but their choice of artwork shows a “shocking” error of judgement, says the Daily Mail.

What happened?

Racist incidents have become a regular occurrence both on and off the pitch in Italy. As Sky News reports, Brescia striker Mario Balotelli “was the subject of a racist remark by the president of his own club” last month.

Another widely condemned incident saw Inter Milan “ultras” writing a letter to the club’s new signing Romelu Lukaku in September claiming that the monkey chants to which he was subjected by his own fans were a “form of respect”.

In response to growing calls for action, all 20 Serie A clubs last month made a united pledge to combat Italian football’s “serious problem”, promising they would “no longer stay silent”.

And on Monday, the league’s officials unveiled an anti-racism campaign after commissioning Simone Fugazzotto, an artist known for his works depicting primates, to come up with the main images.

Fugazzotto says that the resulting triptych of chimpanzees is intended to “turn the concept back on the racists, as we are all monkeys originally”. He claims to have come up with the idea after watching a match between Inter Milan and Napoli.

“Everyone was making the sound of monkeys at Koulibaly, a player I respect,” Fugazzotto said, referring to Napoli’s Senegalese international Kalidou Koulibaly.

“I’ve always been painting monkeys for five to six years, so I thought I’d make this work to teach that we’re all apes. So I made the Western monkey - white with blue eyes - the Asian monkey - with almond eyes - and the black monkey in the middle, which is where everything comes from, this is what the evolutionary theory tells us.”

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And the response?

Announcing the new project, Serie A chief executive Luigi de Siervo said: “We know that racism is an endemic and very complex problem, which we will tackle on three different levels - the cultural one, through works like that of Simone, the sporting one, with a series of initiatives together with clubs and players, and the repressive one, thanks to the collaboration with the police.

“By acting simultaneously on these three different levels, we are sure that we will be able to win the most important game against the evil that ruins the most beautiful sport in the world.” 

But many members of the wider football community are unconvinced by the league’s tactics. Amsterdam-based anti-discriminatory body Fare said: “In a country in which the authorities fail to deal with racism week after week, Serie A have launched a campaign that looks like a sick joke.

“These creations are an outrage - they will be counterproductive and continue the dehumanisation of people of African heritage. “It’s time for the progressive clubs in the league to make their voice heard.”

That message was echoed by football-focused anti-racism organisation Kick It Out, which said: “Serie A’s use of monkeys in their anti-racism campaign is completely inappropriate, undermines any positive intent and will be counterproductive.”

A number of clubs also issued statements on Twitter condemning the artwork, including AS Roma and AC Milan. 

What next?

Serie A is standing by the paintings, claiming: “True art is provocation.”

League boss de Siervo said: “Football is an extraordinary tool for conveying positive messages, fair play and tolerance. Simone’s paintings fully reflect these values and will remain on show in our headquarters.”

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