The Serie A has finally decided to address one major controversy by banning a shirt number. The league has faced criticism for allowing racism to run rampant and its inability to fix that major problem.
Last season, Inter Milan forward Lukaku was a victim of multiple cases of racist abuse in different matches. Yet, the Italian Football Federation didn’t take any serious action to actually force a change.
Lukaku even got sent off for a ‘shushing’ celebration against the Juventus fans in the first leg of Inter’s Coppa Italia semi-final.
Italian Government bans use of no.88
Serie A CEO Luigi De Siervo recently vowed to put an end to racist chants in matches after the controversy around Lukaku.
He vowed to ban guilty supporters from stadiums and claimed they have ‘zero tolerance’ towards racism. But a particular ban has been implemented on another burning issue.
Recently, the Italian Sports Minister Andre Abodi and Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi signed an agreement with a set of rules – out of which one included a complete ban for anyone wearing the no. 88 shirts in sporting events.
That basically means that nobody in Serie A or its lower divisions will be able to wear the No. 88 shirt in official matches. This is a rather unique number and not one that many players even wish to wear, with the general squad numbering starting from 1 to a maximum of 40 or around that number area itself.
The dark history behind the 88 number
There is, however, a deeper history behind the Italian government’s reason for banning the No. 88 in particular from sporting events.
That is because it matches their vision to put an end to anti-Semitism in their country and in sports, and the 88 number represents a very dark history that many fans might not actually be aware of.
For those unknowing, the No. 88 shirt is used in reference to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.
The two 8s are used in reference to the eighth letter in the English alphabetic order – which is H.
So by putting the two HHs together, it is a disgusting reference to HH or better known as ‘Heil Hitler’ which was the phrase used by the Nazis during Hitler’s reign in Germany.
Interior Minister Piantedosi strictly stated that ‘the use by fans of symbols that may be reminiscent of Nazism is forbidden’ in Italy.
Even though this number might seem like one which nobody would want to wear, two Serie A footballers in Atalanta midfielder Mario Pasalic and Sampdoria midfielder Thomas Rincon actually wore the numbers in the past and will be forced to change their kit numbers as a result.
The actual reason behind this implementation is due to multiple Anti-Semitism occurrences in Serie A in recent years.
One Lazio fan even wore a modified version of their away jersey last season in their 1-0 win over AS Roma, with the words ‘Hitlerson’ written at the back just above the number 88.
In that same match, two other Lazio fans were also accused of doing a Roman salute that paid homage to the German dictator. Lazio were quick to identify these supporters and hand them a stadium ban for the rest of their lives.
The club also vowed to help prosecute those supporters if any criminal proceedings started, as the ‘Mancino Law’ in Italy permits the prosecution of those involved in racial, ethnic and religious discrimination.
Despite their best attempts to condemn anti-semitism, Lazio themselves also sparked controversy by signing former Italy fascist leader Benito Mussolini’s great-grandson – Romano Floriani – in 2021.
Another Serie A club, Hellas Verona, have been linked with anti-semitism hate. That’s mostly because of their fans’ open depiction of their love for the Nazi philosophy.
In the past, Hellas fans have hung Swastika symbols in the stands of the Stadio Marcantonio Bentegodi. In 2014, at a party organized for the fans – some individuals parked their cars in such a way that it resembled the shape of a Nazi swastika as well.
The anti-Semitism cases have not gone down at all in Serie A, forcing a government intervention to ban this no.88 to be banned in matches. While players can’t wear it any more, it remains to be seen if the fans comply or if only triggers a wider spread of anti-Semitism next season.