Hellas Verona has released an official statement on their website, which reprimands fans who made anti-southern discriminatory chants towards Napoli players and supporters.
“Hellas Verona FC, with regard to some of the incidents in the Napoli game, regret that they unjustly hurt the image of a whole city, a cultural heritage which welcomes millions of tourists and a club which has always fought in favor of healthy supporting and fair play in sport.”
“If these behaviors, from which we disassociate ourselves, re-occur in the next home game with Crotone, even more drastic measures are being threatened such as the closure of certain sections of the Bentegodi.”
The statement, however, goes on to say that a disciplinary action such as closing the supporters’ section (a common punishment for offensive chants like this) would “not only damage the club but the team, who would be deprived of a fundamental element of their own support.”
“Therefore the club – while hoping that those responsible for observing the games and, by extension, the Giustizia Sportiva will always act in fairness with their judgements, considering just as firmly the serious insults and defamatory expressions pertaining to our city, our fans and our players – invites our supporters to keep up their warm backing of the team, which makes them unique in the football landscape.”
While the club’s statement does distance itself from the actions of their fans, it pulls a 180-degree turn, where it says that “more drastic measures” would “damage the club” without their supporters. The club says it regrets the actions, while also asking for the enforcers to be fair and consider the effect on the club.
Is this not missing the point of the punishment? Is this not missing the point that the club’s supporters, who the club cite as important, fundamental and unique, did something wrong? Why would Verona turn around to the authorities while not strongly condemning the actions taken by their supporters?
These cases of discriminatory chants and behavior by fans are nothing new, as unfortunate as that is. Sulley Muntari walked off the pitch after being racially abused by Cagliari fans. I have, in person, seen people make monkey noises at Mario Balotelli. Hellas Verona is not new to this, either, as some of their fans earlier in the summer held up nazi-related signs and chanted about Hitler.
If these cases are nothing new, and even though we have somehow been desensitized to a portion of fans acting in a way that is despicable, why have the punishments and the statements not ramped up to take a stand?
In essence, why do these things still occur? I would say because of reactions like the one Verona just had.
Their statement is not strongly worded. It barely takes a stand against the anti-southern chants directed at Lorenzo Insigne. Words have meaning, and if the club were to come out and say “these actions were disgusting and we will kick out anyone and everyone who takes these actions in the future and ban them from the stadium,” that would have an impact. Saying that you “distance” yourself is not the same as shooting the behavior down. In addition, calling on authorities to be fair more so than you call on your own supporters not to do something begs the question of if one really thinks this is important. The authorities are enforcing the rules of the game, and punishing the team for the bad behavior of the fans, who have done things like this before. They are not the ones in the wrong.
Verona was fined €30,000 for the actions of their fans. It is common for the team to receive the fine, as the authorities cannot fine a supporters group as a whole. It is basically a punishment for having no control over your fans. That lack of control was emphasized when Verona said that not having the fans there would be a detriment to the team and the club. That is the point. If you make sure your supporters understand that their actions impact the club, they will behave as such. If they know they can get the club punished or affected by something negative they say to another player, most will avoid doing that so their club does not feel the aftermath. Verona did not make sure their supporters behave the way supporters are supposed to. While they did invite them to continue warm support of the team, they did not make a concrete threat to the group as other teams in the past have.
Teams, when caught in situations like this, have a variety of reactions. There is the strongly-worded statement, which is essentially a warning. There is the closing of the fan section, by either the team or the federation, and then there is an empty-stadium game. Fines are always a part of it. Verona just got past the warning stage, but have not warned their supporters, the party in the wrong. Now, if the supporters do it again, which there is a chance of, and there is a closing of the curva, Verona may, according to this statement, call out the authorities for a harsh punishment. If they do so, that means they are part of the problem.
Not enough is being done to prevent these sorts of fan behavior. Yes, there is only so much that can be done. Clubs do not have full control over their supporters. They are not expected to. They are expected to be on the same page and attempt to keep them all in line, though, and the federation recognizes that. If the fans defy the club, the club and federation know, and the club consents to the punishment because it has gotten to that point. But in this case, you can’t say the fans are defying the club, since the club made no drastic “hey, knock that off, it is not okay” warning. Verona has not made the true attempt to reign it in. They shrugged and said, “that is unfortunate, don’t let it affect us,” but to the authorities, not the fans at fault.
You can fine clubs, you can close the stadium. But the true action that needs to be consistently, and emphatically, taken is to prove that your club, administration, and fanbase are on the proper side. The proper side being one that does not discriminate, but supports the team and the sport.
Can fans be rowdy? Yes. Does that have to come at the expense of other fans and players? No.
There is more of a line than some think there is, and it is up to everyone to show where that line is and that, if you go across it, you are not welcome. Clubs have said it and taken that action in the past, such as finding the fans with the authorities and banning them for life from the stadium. Essentially, clubs have expelled their fans. That is what is needed across the board if this epidemic of discriminatory behavior is to stop: take a unified stand that it is wrong. Not that it is regrettable, not to distance. To say “no,” with more than just a statement on the website.
Essentially, not enough is being done, because some choose to not do anything. Do all that you can, and it will show. Because currently, the opposite is being shown, and the sport suffers for it.