Italy coach Roberto Mancini has defended children “blacking up” as Napoli striker Victor Osimhen, insisting “where some see racism, I see only wonder”.
It is carnival time in Italy and traditionally the adults and children dress up as their heroes with outfits, masks and wigs.
Neapolitan writer of Nigerian origin Sabrina Efionayi wrote on Facebook that she could see what they were trying to do, but remained stunned that Italian culture simply does not understand why “blackface” is offensive.
Efionayi wrote: “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.”
Now Italy coach Roberto Mancini has responded on Instagram with an image of the children in their Osimhen outfits.
Mancini wrote: “Where some see racism, I see only WONDER. Sport is inclusion and you kids are giants!”
Italian culture has been through this many times before in recent years, where one of the most popular television shows is called “Tale e Quale Show” – celebrities are transformed into music icons to perform as them, including changing white faces to black.
When black players received racist abuse, their teammates tried to show solidarity by blacking up for their next match, genuinely not understanding why this was counter-productive and insulting.
Efionayi was born and raised in Italy, wrote a book on her experiences growing up as a black girl in Naples who lived with two families, one her biological mother and the other the Italian neighbours who effectively adopted her.