Italy coach, Roberto Mancini, has caused controversy after defending children, who have donned blackface ‘in tribute’ to Napoli star, Victor Osimhen, foot-italia.net.
In the run up to lent, carnivals are a common celebration across the Italian peninsula, and a key part of these are adults and children alike dressing up as their heroes with outfits, masks, wigs and makeup.
In recent weeks, a number of images have gone viral online showing children dressed up as Osimhen, complete with the full kit and often wearing blackface, intentionally darkening their skin.
Blackface is considered highly offensive and has essentially always been donned with a mocking intent over the past few centuries, making it an extremely controversial act.
This is no different for celebrities, with examples including Canada prime minister, Justin Trudeau and Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann, both of whom apologised.
Mancini took to Instagram to defend the children ‘paying homage’ to Osimhen, commenting: “Where some see racism, I see only WONDER. Sport is inclusion and you kids are giants.”
His response has infuriated fans and onlookers, many of whom have pointed to the racism issues still present in Italy and the painful lack of understanding from the Azzurri coach.
Mancini’s reaction has not stopped activists from criticising Italian culture. Neapolitan writer, Sabrina Efionayi, who, like Osimhen, is of Nigerian origin, took to social media to criticise parents for allowing their children to use blackface during the carnival.
Efionayi felt it was alarming that people do not understand why ‘blacking up’ is offensive.
“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,” she wrote on Facebook.
“From [Gino] Sorbillo painting his face black to show solidarity with Koulibaly, 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.”
Mancini then took to Instagram to hit back at Efionayi’s criticism, with an image of young fans in their Osimhen shirts.
“Where some see racism, I see only wonder,” he urged. “Sport is inclusion and you kids are giants.”