Main supporters still back candidate
30 July ~ Italy's surprise exit at the group stage of Brazil 2014 saw the immediate resignations of coach Cesare Prandelli and federation president Giancarlo Abete. Prandelli soon found himself a new post as coach of Galatasaray, while his post and that of federation president remain vacant. The new president will be chosen on August 11 and there are two candidates: 42-year-old Demetrio Albertini, ex-Milan and Italy stalwart and for several years vice-president of the federation, is the choice of the players and the coaches, who have 32 per cent of the votes.
Meanwhile Carlo Tavecchio, the 71-year-old president of Italy's 15,000 non-professional clubs – he's held the post since 1999 – is the choice of the professional and non-professional clubs, who have the remaining 68 per cent of the votes. In Serie A only Juventus and Roma favoured Albertini. Or perhaps I should say was until last Friday.
On that day Tavecchio set out his programme in a two-hour prepared speech. One part of it was aimed at reducing the number of low-quality foreign players who come to Italy and consign promising Italians to the bench or the stands. This is something which one can argue about but which, expressed in these neutral terms, should not offend anyone. Unfortunately Tavecchio chose to illustrate his case by reference to an imaginary player called "Opti Poga" who is "eating bananas" one day and playing for Lazio the next.
It did not take long for Tavecchio's words to produce a storm. Fans took to social media to point out that an entire curve had been closed for the expression of racist sentiments, so how could a man who had said such a thing become the leader of the Italian game or have any credibility in its fight against racism? Politics, predictably, split between the left who condemned Tavecchio unreservedly and the right who admitted that his phrase had been inopportune but argued that it was an isolated incident for which he should not be labelled a racist. Meanwhile some clubs from Serie A, led by Fiorentina, hinted that they would no longer vote for him. But his main supporters, Maurizio Beretta and Andrea Abodi, presidents of respectively Serie A and Serie B, and Adriano Galliani of Milan and Claudio Lotito of Lazio continued to support his candidature.
It did not take long for FIFA, UEFA and the EU to get involved and ask for an explanation. Meanwhile the man at the centre of the storm refused to stand down. Incredible though it may seem, he argued that while his reference to bananas was inappropriate, it was not racist. He also defended himself by referring to good works that he has been part of in African countries such as Benin and Togo. This, according to him, proved that he could not be a racist. It did not seem to occur to him that it also makes his comment even more incomprehensible.
Out of all this come some certainties. One is that what Tavecchio said was part of a prepared speech, so presumably he knew in advance that he was going to say it. If he did not realise the gravity of it, he is not fit to lead Italian football out of the abyss. In the unlikely event that it was an off the cuff remark, it still shows his unfitness for the office that he wants to hold. Many would say that whatever good works he may have done in the past, with this one remark Tavecchio has unmasked himself as a racist, because otherwise why did he say it? It was completely unnecessary. We will now have to wait until August 11 for the final verdict.
My view is that Tavecchio will be elected, but that he will be a lame duck president, especially if a lot of Serie A and B clubs refrain from voting for him. This will also mean that the power brokers who run Italian football for their own benefit and not for the benefit of the game will have won again and that for the foreseeable future nothing will change for the better. And Italian football, together with Italian society in general, will have lost another battle in the fight against racism. Richard Mason