Two fans of the Italian soccer club S.S. Lazio were acquitted on charges of incitement and racial hatred after denigrating opposing fans by calling them “Jews,” Ynet reported Wednesday.
Security cameras at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome during a March 2013 game between Lazio and Calcio Catania caught the Lazio fans screaming the words “giallorosso ebreo,” Italian for “yellow-red Jew,” a reference to the jersey colors of Lazio’s arch-rival club Roma. It emerged during the trial that one of the defendants had posters and t-shirts in his apartment identifying with the far-right.
The judge ruled that insulting someone by referring to them as a Jewish Roma supporter, as the fans were implicitly doing, was not racist because of the “historic sports antagonism between the two urban teams.”
“This is merely sports ridicule,” the judge said, noting that Roma fans were not even in the stadium at the time.
The judge’s decision was criticized by Ruth Dureghello, the head of the Jewish community in Rome, who wrote on Monday that the ruling was “without doubt, an extremely dangerous precedent for justice in this country.” Dureghello warned that the ruling would lend legitimacy to using racist chants and actions in sports stadiums.
Italian Minister of Justice Andrea Orlando pledged to look into the ruling and “act accordingly if he deems necessary,” Ynet reported.
The club’s most dedicated supporters, called ultras, have a history of anti-Semitic and racist behavior. In 2013, Lazio fans in the stadium passed around stickers depicting Anne Frank wearing a Roma jersey. During 2012 matches against Tottenham Hotspur, a London team with a large Jewish fanbase, Lazio fans chanted “Juden Tottenham” and made monkey chants directed toward black players (the club was fined $52,000 a month later by FIFA, the governing body of world soccer). And during a game against Roma in the late 1990s, ultras raised a 160-foot banner that read “Auschwitz is your town, the ovens are your houses.”
A 2014 Pew survey found that 24 percent of Italians reported having negative feelings towards Jews.