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Italian newspaper criticised for 'Black Friday' headline about Lukaku and Smalling

Corriere dello Sport used the term in reference to tomorrow’s Serie A game between Inter Milan and Roma.

Updated Dec 5th 2019, 5:44 PM

AN ITALIAN NEWSPAPER has been criticised for previewing their upcoming Serie A game against Inter with a “Black Friday” headline between images of Romelu Lukaku and Chris Smalling.

Corriere dello Sport dedicated its front page to the contest between two of Italy’s form teams, but their headline choice has attracted widespread criticism.

“Black Friday”, a term used to describe the first Friday after Thanksgiving in the United States when retail sales mark the start of the Christmas shopping period, saw the publication focus on the reunion of former Manchester United team-mates Smalling and Lukaku, both of whom are black.

Lukaku Smalling headline Source: Twitter/AS Roma

Roma – who Smalling is playing for on loan – brought the headline to the attention of their followers on Twitter, posting a screenshot of the offending front page and suggesting “not a single soul” would find Corriere’s editorial decision to be appropriate.

Inter striker Lukaku and Smalling have been leading stars for their respective teams this season, but the headline is the latest in a series of incidents to have blighted Italian football this season. Belgium international Lukaku, who is of Congolese descent, was subjected to racist abuse by Cagliari fans in September.

Smalling has addressed the headline, writing: “Whilst I would have liked to spend the day focusing on the big game tomorrow, it is important that I acknowledge that what occurred this morning was wrong and highly sensitive. 

“I hope the editors involved in running this headline take responsibility and understand the power they possess through words, and the impact those words can have.

“A big shout out to AS Roma for their support!”

In response, Roma and AC Milan have issued an immediate ban on Corriere dello Sport this evening. 

Troy Townsend, head of development for equality and inclusion organisation Kick It Out, said errors in judgement help to normalise discrimination in Italy, a country that has been dogged by incidents of racism this season.

Townsend said: “We’re not shocked, are we? We’ve seen a number of incidents in Italy this season alone. If we talk about Lukaku himself and the abuse he received at Cagliari, Mario Balotelli again – what he had to do through anger, through frustration, in kicking the ball into the crowd and attempting to walk off a football pitch. Then he had his own president [Massimo Cellino] talk about him in the way he did, saying he was ['black and is working on lightening up'].

This is symptomatic of the issues and the problems that still exist in Italy. While we thought it was an issue for the federation, who allow racism in their stadiums and allow the very identity of black people to be dehumanised, questioned and devalued, we now realise again – like we have in the UK – that the press have a massive part to play in this as well.

“By choosing two black players and using that headline ‘Black Friday’… their [Corriere dello Sport's] statement, you’re not kidding anybody here. Ultimately, that is a racist act that’s been put out publicly that many people will glorify on and chuckle with. That’s my massive issue – you’re influencing the masses with whatever you put out, front page or back page.

“The people they should go and ask how they feel are Lukaku and Chris Smalling. I can guarantee both of them will tell whoever it needs to be as it is and not be led by a limp statement afterwards.”

italy-parma-milan-serie-a-date-14 Milan's Franck Kessie. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

Milan’s Franck Kessie was targeted for similar abuse at Hellas Verona later that month, before Smalling called for stronger punishments for racism in October.

Last month Brescia’s Mario Balotelli reacted to monkey chants away to Verona by kicking a ball into the stands, while in an unrelated incident the club’s president Massimo Cellino was criticised for racially insensitive comments about the Italy striker.

In relation to Balotelli being dropped from the first team, Cellino said: “What can I say? That he’s black and he’s working to whiten himself but he has great difficulties in this.”

A statement from Brescia said the remarks were “clearly a joke said as a paradox” and a “clearly misunderstood… attempt to downplay an excessive media exposure and aimed at protecting the player”.

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