Lazio, a top flight Italian soccer club, is finally confronting the scourge of anti-Semitism.
This week, Lazio's president left a bouquet of flowers at a Rome synagogue (although some Jewish boys apparently then threw it in the Tiber) and pledged to take Lazio fans to the former Nazi death camp at Auschwitz. The president's response stems from an incident during a match between Lazio and their rival, Roma F.C., on Sunday, in which Lazio fans plastered anti-Semitic stickers around the stadium. Many of these stickers showed the famous Holocaust victim, Anne Frank, in a Roma shirt. The president has also decided that Lazio players will wear a photo of Anne Frank on their shirts at this weekend's game.
But while Lazio's president response deserves praise for taking action, what happened on Sunday is only the tip of the iceberg.
Italian soccer has a longstanding reputation for racism, but Lazio has been front and center of these issues. The central problem is that Lazio's support base is defined by various powerful soccer hooligan blocks such as the Irriducibili. Adopting the "Ultra" hooligan mentality of ardent far-right xenophobia and violence, these fans see soccer as an existential cause. And benefiting from the support of former stars such as the famed striker, Paolo Di Canio (shown below), the Ultra groups have been given license for their activities.
As a result, unless it bans many more Ultra fans from attending games, Lazio will fail to reduce anti-Semitism and racism in its supporting ranks.
Nevertheless, there is hope. As the English soccer leagues have found, when hooligans are driven out of stadiums and derided by every other corner of society, their power eventually wanes.