Cagliari take stand against homophobia in Italian soccer
06 March 2014, 21:15
Rome - Serie A team Cagliari, led by midfielder Daniele Dessena, are taking on entrenched homophobia in Italian soccer by wearing rainbow coloured laces in their boots to express solidarity with gay people.
Dessena, a former Italian under-21 international, joined a campaign promoted by gay rights groups and Irish bookmaker Paddy Power when he donned the multi-coloured laces at Milan's San Siro stadium against Inter on Feb. 23.
Struggling Cagliari managed a 1-1 draw with their illustrious rivals, but Dessena was the target of homophobic abuse from many of the Sardinian team's own fans on the club's blog and other websites.
Rather than withdraw from the limelight, however, Dessena hit back on the same social media, calling his critics "stupid and ignorant," and announcing he would wear the laces for the rest of the season.
Support swelled for the former Parma and Sampdoria player for what was seen as a courageous stand in the world of Italian soccer, where homosexuality is a largely taboo subject.
World Cup-winning former national coach Marcello Lippi famously said in 2009 that he did not believe there were any gay players in Italian professional soccer.
At the 2012 European Championship Italian striker Antonio Cassano was forced to apologise after he said in a news conference he hoped there were no "froci" (a derogatory slang term for gays) in the national team.
"We should all do something to improve our society, not just fighting homophobia but also racism and all the other types of discrimination," Dessena, who is not gay himself, said in an interview with daily La Stampa.
"I didn't think wearing two coloured bootlaces could spark all this furore, this shows Italian society is really backwards."
Sections of numerous Italian stadiums have been repeatedly closed over the past year due to fans making monkey noises at black players or chanting abuse at citizens from the poor south in what is outlawed in Italy as "territorial discrimination."
At Cagliari's next game at home to Udinese on Sunday, three of Dessena's team mates also wore the rainbow laces, Chilean striker Mauricio Pinilla, Colombian striker Victor Ibarbo and Brazilian defender Danilo Avelar.
Ibarbo was among the scorers in a surprise 3-0 victory for Cagliari, helping the team move further away from the relegation zone.
Online comments in social media show more and more Cagliari supporters are now convinced that the coloured laces are not only a worthy campaign, but are also bringing their team luck.
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