Italy government

The Italian government is enjoying the glory of football

THE EURO 2020 final between Italy and England was striking, not only for the clash of footballing styles in the game itself, but for the socio-political undercurrents that swirled between the two teams and touched issues such as nationalism, internationalism and racial sensitivity. In at least one respect, it was a victory for Europeanism. It was the first UEFA European Championship final to be played since Britain left the European Union. And while Brexit was not prominent in Italian commentary during the build-up to the game, it was never far below the surface. Hours before the game, one of Italy’s most popular TV presenters, Ezio Greggio, took to Instagram to urge Roberto Mancini and his team to “make them do Brexit from the Euro too”.

That they did exactly that was as much of a boost to Italy’s fervor community Prime Minister, Mario Draghi, as it was a drag on his Brexit sponsor counterpart, Boris Johnson. A columnist for Il Mattino, a Neapolitan daily, credited Mr. Draghi, former president of the European Central Bank, with having “created a favorable international context for Italy, presenting it in European and world forums as a serious and credible country”. Such a country, he added, was “equipped to win”.

Not everyone would agree with this analysis. But Italy’s victory on July 11 is sure to spread a warm glow of satisfaction across the country, which could benefit Mr. Draghi’s heterogeneous and often seemingly fragile coalition. The current Italian government spans a wide arc that stretches from the radical left, represented by the small Free and Equal alliance, to the radical right, in the form of Matteo Salvini’s much larger Northern League.

To the extent that any sporting event can have an impact on politics, this one has unquestionably favored the right – and not just the League, but the even more right-wing Italian Brethren party, which is in opposition. The most striking aspect of Italy’s 26-man squad before it entered the pitch was that, alone among the main contenders, it did not include a single player considered to be of color (although three were born in Brazil, they are of Italian origin). ). The publication of the team’s photo drew a lot of criticism on social networks, especially in France. And there were further criticisms of the team’s ambivalent approach to “kneeling” as a gesture of opposition to racism. Only a few Italian players took a knee before the game against Wales. They then made the strange decision that they should all do it, but only if the opposing team did it too.

Almost every country has learned that, in sport, diversity brings dividends, and even medals and cups. Italy, although it has a smaller and more recent immigrant population than France or Britain, is no exception. Fiona May, a British-born Jamaican long jumper who became Italian through marriage, twice won gold for Italy at the World Championships in Athletics. Mario Balotelli, born in Italy to Ghanaian parents, earned 36 caps as a forward for the national football team between 2010 and 2018.

But one of the reasons why talented young sportsmen of color in Italy are not trained by national youth teams early in their careers is that they are not Italian. And that is how Mr. Salvini and the leader of the Brothers of Italy, Giorgia Meloni, want it to stay.

Italian citizenship law is a modified form of jus sanguinis, by which the right to nationality is inherited. Children born in Italy to immigrant parents generally cannot apply to become Italian until they reach the age of 18, and only then if they have lived in Italy continuously since birth. Some never do. Around 5 million people who speak Italian as the dominant language, often with the accents and inflections typical of Italian regions, continue to be considered foreigners.

When elected leader of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) earlier this year, Enrico Letta said he would make it a priority to change the law to allow for a form of soil juice, according to which the right to nationality derives from the place of birth. His announcement was strongly criticized, not only by Ms. Meloni in the opposition, but also by her theoretical ally, Mr. Salvini.

After Sunday’s match, the two party leaders tweeted images of the Italian team members celebrating, with wide smiles on all their faces. It won’t hurt any politician that none of those faces are black. With black British footballers missing penalties and suffering vicious racist abuse online, European football’s big night was not great for multiculturalism.