By trying to restrict women’s access to football, a group of far-right Italian football fanatics are inadvertently echoing the repressive policies of countries like Iran.
It is one of life’s great ironies that people with extremely right-wing views are often quick to criticise Islam as an anti-women religion. Scroll below the line on any online article about women’s rights in majority-Muslim countries, and you’ll likely find a veritable swamp of racist commenters accusing an entire religion of hating an entire gender.
This, of course, is nonsense. There are places where a conservative interpretation of Islam is invoked by some people as an excuse to control and abuse women – but there are also places where conservative Christianity is used to do the same thing. There are left-wing Jewish misogynists, and there are atheist centrists who beat their wives. And, of course, there are many people on the extreme far right with views about women that seem straight out of the 15th century.
For the latest example of the latter, look to Rome, where a far-right group of football fanatics has attracted international attention for trying to ban women from their “sacred space” in the stadium. The Lazio ultras, one of Italy’s most notorious groups of die-hard football supporters, handed out flyers at a match between Lazio and Napoli at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico on Saturday.
The flyer states that a certain section of the stadium, the Curva Nord, is “sacred” to Lazio ultras – and, as a result, women are not allowed to sit in the first 10 rows of the stands.
“The Curva Nord represents for us a sacred space,” said the flyer, which was shared by fans on social media. “An environment with an unwritten code to be respected.
“The first few rows, as always, have been experienced like the trenches. In the trenches, we do not allow women, wives and girlfriends, so we invite them to position themselves from the 10th row back.”
The flyer also warned couples hoping for a light-hearted day out to avoid the Curva Nord. “Those who chose the stadium as an alternative to a carefree and romantic day at Villa Borghese [one of Rome’s major landscape gardens], go to other areas.”
The idea that women should be banned from sitting in any area of a football stadium is, of course, absurd and offensive – and the implicit threat that the “sacred space” is simply too dangerous for women is worrying.
However, this isn’t the first – or worst – time that the Lazio ultras have made headlines. At a match in November last year, the group handed out anti-Semitic stickers showing Anne Frank wearing the shirt of rival team Roma. (Similar stickers had previously appeared across the Italian capital in December 2013.) As a result, the club – which has distanced itself from the ultras’ latest antics – was fined €50,000 (£44,700) by the Italian football federation.
Just one month earlier, the Curva Nord was closed for two games after racist chanting by around 2,000 fans during a match against Sassuolo. In another match against Bologna, fans allegedly engaged in fascist chanting and Nazi salutes. Over the years, racist banners and fascist memorabilia have all been on show in the stands – and as a team, Lazio was also associated with fascist dictator Benito Mussolini during his reign.
What is particularly striking about this particular story, though, is how it echoes the efforts of some conservative Muslim-majority countries to restrict women’s access to football stadiums. It was only in January this year that women in Saudi Arabia were allowed to spectate at a football match for the first time – and they were still required to sit in ‘family seating’.
In Iran, meanwhile, women’s attendance at football matches has long been strictly suppressed. Women have been refused entry to sports arenas since the 1979 Islamic revolution, and there are several recent examples of dozens of women being detained for trying to enter a football stadium – prompting some to disguise themselves as men to get past security. While some women were allowed inside Tehran’s Azadi stadium for the first time during the World Cup this summer, that was only a temporary reprieve on Iranian football’s no-women policy.
What does all this tell us? That all religions and political affiliations have pockets of misogyny. Some are undoubtedly deeper than others – but fascists are on shaky ground when they attempt to paint Islam as inherently anti-women.
On Monday (20 August), police in Rome said they had identified some of the Lazio fans responsible for the latest flyers, and that the authors could face discrimination charges. Let’s hope they’re made an example of – because this kind of sexism shouldn’t be tolerated in 2018.
Images: Getty Images