In Italy, ahead of the Lazio football team’s first game on 18 August, non-official flyers were handed out urging women to avoid parts of Rome’s Stadio Olimpico. Handed out by Lazio ultra-fans, the flyers claimed that women were not welcome in the Curva Nord part of the stadium. Translated from Italian, they claimed this area of the stadium is a “sacred place” and further advised those wanting a care-free or romantic day to go elsewhere. The unofficial flyer has sparked public outrage, and many are calling for sexism in sporting environments to be punished.
BBC News reports that a spokesman of the Lazio football team, Arturo Diaconale, said: “We didn’t know anything about this [flyer], it was an independent initiative by some of the Curva Nord fans.” He also told Italian news agency Ansa that the Lazio club is against any form of discrimination, but that the club cannot prevent all displays of prejudice exhibited by fans. Former female Italian football player and coach, Carolina Morace, called the act “unjustifiable,” stating to the Ansa news agency that “we are [back] to the middle ages.”
While the flyer handed out was unofficial, it feeds forms of sexism which are perpetuated through sports in the contemporary era. Not only does it create gender discrimination, it also fuels toxic masculinity, and sets a norm for men that segregating females is acceptable. Luisa Rizzitelli, president of Assist Female Athletes Association, argues that it is hard to believe some men still think they have a right to choose exactly how women watch football. The road to gender equality is a slow one, but it is up to the general public, as well as institutions, to ensure that when discrimination does arise, it is not tolerated. Women have just as much right as men to watch sports, and it is, in fact, such extreme hatred that ruins the vibrant and inclusive nature sports create.
The flyers handed out at Lazio’s opening game two weeks ago is not the first incidence of political incorrectness by its die-hard fans. BBC News reports that Lazio fans have a history of racism, sexism, violence, and anti-Semitism. For example, BBC Sport reports that last year the Lazio club was fined €50,000 after fans produced anti-Semitic images of Holocaust victim Anne Frank. In relation to this month’s incident, Reuters reports that two possible instigators have been identified, and their cases could be prosecuted under Italy’s anti-discrimination laws. It is now up to Italian authorities to ensure that those responsible are prosecuted, to send a message to other ultra-fans that political incorrectness is what ruins their supposed “sacred places.” As occurred during the prosecution of those involved in the anti-Semitic images of Anne Frank, any fan who creates a dangerous, discriminatory, or uncomfortable atmosphere for others should be banned from the stadium altogether.
By penalizing those who create an intolerant atmosphere, as well as increasing public awareness of discrimination in sports, football can continue to be an inclusive and dynamic sport for its fans. Gender discrimination will only decrease once these acts of sexism and toxic masculinity stop being reproduced in environments such as sports stadiums.
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