Italy manager Roberto Mancini has defended children ‘blacking up’ as Serie A top scorer Victor Osimhen during carnival week in Naples.
Sporting costumes, masks and capes, both adults and children traditionally attend the carnival dressed as one of their heroes – and this year several children chose to embody Osimhen, who has netted 20 goals in 24 matches for Napoli this season.
Hitting out at Italian culture, Neapolitan writer Sabrina Efionayi – who, like Osimhen, is of Nigerian origin – took to social media to criticise parents for allowing their children to use blackface during the carnival. Mancini has since defended the parents and children, insisting that “where some see racism, I see only wonder”.
Despite understanding why, the young fans wanted to dress up in such a way, Efionayi felt it was alarming that Italians do not understand why ‘blacking up’ is offensive.
Mancini, who won Euro 2020 with Italy after beating England in the final, added: “Sport is inclusion and you kids are giants!”
She said on Facebook, “Every time a player with black skin excels in a team (in this case, Napoli), I always feel this tremendous angst over how people think he should be celebrated. From the solidarity of Sorbillo to Koulibaly who painted his face black, to the children you painted brown in ‘honour’ of Osimhen for Carnival. Trust me, it is not celebrating him at all. It gives me goosebumps if you think it is showing solidarity, being amusing or supportive of the Nigerian player.”
Mancini swiftly took to Instagram to hit back at Efionayi’s criticism, posting an image of young fans in their Osimhen outfits.
“Where some see racism, I see only wonder,” the Euro 2020 winner urged. “Sport is inclusion and you kids are giants!”
Italy’s approach to racial sensitivity has been heavily questioned in recent years, especially in relation to the popular television programme Tale e Quale Show, which has seen white celebrities use blackface to transform into iconic music artists and perform as them.
In broader terms beyond blackface, Italy has struggled to deal with racism in sport. Serie A put themselves in hot water in 2019 after artwork for an anti-racism campaign comprised three paintings of monkeys.
A number of black players have also been racially abused in Italian stadiums over the last few years – Tiemoue Bakayoko and Franck Kessie were targeted with derogatory chants by Lazio fans, prompting AC Milan to file an official complaint in 2021.
And two months ago, Italian rugby player Cherif Traore accused his team-mates of racism after they gave him a rotten banana during an anonymous Secret Santa gift exchange at Christmas.
- A Daily Mail report