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The Political Meaning Behind Napoli’s Victory And What It Means For The “Sud”

Victoria Kabeya, personal archives

After thirty three years of waiting, Napoli finally won its third scudetto and has been crowned champion of Italy. The news saw an explosion of joy not only in Napoli, but throughout the Italian diaspora. In New-York, both Italian-Americans of southern roots and recent Italian immigrants took to the streets to celebrate the victory. In Argentina, Argentinians of Italian descent and Neapolitan immigrants who moved there recently also expressed their immense joy.

In Napoli, both the youth and old, black and white, natives and immigrants shared their happiness with the world. However, the victory of a team whose players have proven their superiority throughout the past seasons, did not sit well with many Italian northerners.

In Italian media, often owned by wealthy multinationals, the post-colonial narrative still exists. The divide between the North and the South of the country which was unified following the colonial invasion of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies by the Kingdom of Savoy, the criminalization of the Southerners carries on. The latter have been described as lazy, born criminals, born gangsters, hence accusations also reinforced by pseudo-scientific and colonial racist theories promoted by Cesare Lombroso himself among others. If violence in Napoli is real, this brutality stems from the harsh colonial treatment endured by the Southerners as a whole.

It is important to remind the readers that Southern Europeans, especially Southern Italians, were always referred to as, the “Niggers of Europe”. Historically, the Northern European superpowers affirmed their domination through the exploitation, killing and torture of other European clans deemed inferior. This violence also generated racism in the south, and even throughout the Italian diaspora as most of the Italian immigrants were not considered white by the Anglo-saxon institutions. Therefore, as for the Irish, anti-blackness and racism towards the black groups became a way to break away from this status of inferiority which was forcibly attached to the southern Italians and southern Europeans.

The Reunification of Italy was a historical fact, but it remains symbolically rooted in the violence of colonialism. Neapolitans, like any other southern Italians, are colonized subjects deemed inferior both racially (due to their non-white origins supposedly), intellectually and spiritually. These clans have been dehumanized. And the brutality endured by the Africans during colonialism regarding the techniques of dehumanization were first applied towards the European clans deemed inferior by the dominant and Northern white colonial institutions which crushed them.

Consequently, the victory of Napoli, the former capital of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, bothers the northern space. And as colonized subjects, the Neapolitans annoy the Italian media even more. Indeed, the Neapolitans do not bow down, and are extremely unapologetic regarding their pride in their roots. They speak Neapolitan, accentuate every part of their facets, and are thus called savages and uneducated in order to make them pay for being true to themselves. Their pride bothers many. Even in social media, northern Italian comments highlight such disdain. While responding to the images and videos of Neapolitans celebrating their victory, many supporters of northern Italian teams not only mock them, their accent, but also question their economic status, writing comments such as “Why are these people celebrating so much? Do people really work in Napoli?”

Over the past seasons and years, the Italian winning teams always came from the North. Their victory was explained by their higher socioeconomical condition, as well as the fact that the North is perceived as the real sphere of development in the country. The domination of the northern teams also allowed many supporters to insult and chant racist words towards both black Italian players and Neapolitan athletes. In these stadiums, Neapolitans were referred to as “dirty”, “stinky”, or even “pigs”.

Due to the colonial myth which placed them as born criminals, the south has been presented since the Reunification of Italy as a place of total backwardness, from where excellence, beauty, arts could not emerge. Knowledge, excellence, beauty, could only come from the north, where civilization took place and began. The constant disdain displayed towards Neapolitans and the football team takes root in racism and colonialism.

The new generation

Napoli and its team are not the north, but the third world in all its beauty. In this sense, the victory was also political and could not be taken away from this specific concept.

Decades prior when Diego Maradona was still present, though Argentina was purposedly whitewashed, Maradona, the descendant of native Guaranis represented this facet of a crushed South exploited by the brutality of colonialism where excellence also existed. Through him, another connection which linked South America and Italy once again led to another form of success and domination. It is also important to highlight the fact that Maradona was the victim of racism from northern supporters too.

Thirty years later, the specificity of the Neapolitan team still reflects the dynamic of the Southern sphere. Indeed, since the beginning of the 2000s, the south of Italy has been plagued by the problematic of immigration. As the Mediterranean sea kept drinking black cadavers, the murder of Muammar Kadhafi, with the complicity of Nicolas Sarkozy in 2011, led to a degeneracy regarding the high number of black people dying while attempting to cross the Mediterranean sea. As southern European countries have been enduring recession due to the failed policies of the European Union, nations such as Greece or even France saw the emergence of far-right groups which targeted these poor black migrants.

In southern Italy, a system of exploitation exists where Nigerian women are taken advantage of by both Nigerian and Italian gangsters in networks of human trafficking. Castel Volturno illustrates this reality.

If black Africa was one of the three foundations of the Mediterranean culture, Napoli also represents, despite it all, a certain form of multiculturalism where new generations of black African Neapolitans also saw the light. Whether they are mixed-race or not, they experience their own issues and are a part of the Mediterranean world. The Italian media owned by the north still criminalize these black Africans they only reduce to prostitution and crime. The latter suffer from the fact of being black Africans but also from their migrant status.

However, the Neapolitan players of this new generation embodied this new Neapolitan society of a “South within a south”, hence all the elements which are despised by the “civilized” north.

The goal against Udinese, which led to the victory of Napoli was scored by Victor Osimhen, a twenty four year old Nigerian player. The latter not only represents excellence due to his discipline, hard work and focus, but gives more visibility to the Nigerian-Neapolitan group often criminalized, even if this visibility can not only be reduced to sport at all.

This celebration is not only that of the Neapolitans, but it also that of the Calabrese, Sicilians, Apulians and many other crushed southerners. Through the victory, Napoli replaces itself as the center of south, especially due to their unapologetic pride.

Southern Italy is not Italy.

By Victoria “VKY” Kabeya, All Rights Reserved 2023

[1] AFP “Osimhen ‘feared racism’ in Italy before joining Napoli”, France24, 2020 https://www.france24.com/en/20200826-osimhen-feared-racism-in-italy-before-joining-napoli

[2] Bandini, Nicky “Napoli’s perfect start overshadowed as racist abuse rears its ugly head”, The Guardian, 2021 https://www.theguardian.com/football/2021/oct/04/napoli-fiorentina-racist-abuse-kalidou-koulibaly

[3] Whitehead, Jacob, “Fiorentina CEO apologises after three Napoli players subjected to racist chants”, The Athletic, 2021 https://theathletic.com/4195907/2021/10/03/fiorentina-ceo-apologises-after-three-napoli-players-subjected-to-racist-chants/

[4] “Napoli striker Victor Osimhen subjected to racist abuse by Verona supporters”, The Times, 2022 https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/napoli-striker-victor-osimhen-subjected-to-racist-abuse-by-verona-supporters-266gstt7t

[5] Girard, Wayne ““WE ARE ALL KOULIBALY”: THE NAPOLI DEFENDER’S FIGHT AGAINST RACISM AND THE CONTEXT OF CALCIO’S PROBLEMS”, These Football Times, 2019 https://thesefootballtimes.co/2019/06/04/we-are-all-koulibaly-the-napoli-defenders-fight-against-racism-and-the-context-of-calcios-problems/

[6] Dawnay, Oliver “Roma’s match with Napoli temporarily suspended after racist chants are directed at Kalidou Koulibaly”, Talk Sport, 2019 https://talksport.com/football/624312/romas-match-napoli-suspended-after-racist-chants-kalidou-koulibaly/

[7] AFP, “Napoli players, fans support Koulibaly after racist chants”, AP News, December 29th, 2018 https://apnews.com/article/e42c6732e8b84e25ad416835ce6025ac

[8] Lamorte, Antonio, ““Napoli è un’isola in Italia, napoletani trattati come zingari: ogni domenica un derby col razzismo”, Il Riformista, 2022 https://www.ilriformista.it/napoli-e-unisola-in-italia-napoletani-trattati-come-zingari-ogni-domenica-un-derby-col-razzismo-287920/

[9] “Non chiamateli sfottò! Come e perchè il razzismo anti-napoletano è diventato “normale”, I Am Naples, 2013 https://www.iamnaples.it/notizie-calcio-napoli/chiamateli-sfotto-perche-il-razzismo-anti-napoletano-diventato-normale/

[10] Forgione, Angelo “Razzismo anti-Napoli: curva Milan chiusa… finalmente!”, Il Blog di Angelo Forgione, 2013 https://angeloforgione.com/2013/09/23/squalifica_razzismo/

[11] Pipitone, Francesco, “Napoli, lo Scudetto è rivoluzione: la risposta all’Italia razzista che vuole la morte del Sud”, Vesuvio Live, 2023 https://www.vesuviolive.it/sport/calcio-napoli/458423-scudetto-napoli-rivoluzione-italia-razzista/

[12] “La condanna per razzismo “dimenticata” di Salvini per quel coro contro i napoletani”, Open Online, 2020 https://www.open.online/2020/01/12/la-condanna-per-razzismo-dimenticata-di-salvini-per-quel-coro-contro-i-napoletani/

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