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The Morality of a Derby

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The rivalry between Roma and Lazio transcends the sporting narrative and the stakes for this year’s derby have never been higher.

Bologna FC v SS Lazio - Serie A Photo by Mario Carlini / Iguana Press/Getty Images

“To a high degree we are, through art and science, cultured. We are civilized – perhaps too much for our own good – in all sorts of social grace and decorum. But to consider ourselves as having reached morality – for that, much is lacking. The ideal of morality belongs to culture; its use for some simulacrum of morality in the love of honor and outward decorum constitutes mere civilization. So long as states waste their forces in vain and violent self-expansion, and thereby constantly thwart the slow efforts to improve the minds of their citizens by even withdrawing all support from them, nothing in the way of a moral order is to be expected. For such an end, a long internal working of each political body toward the education of its citizens is required. Everything good that is not based on a morally good disposition, however, is nothing but pretense and glittering misery. In such a condition the human species will no doubt remain until, in the way I have described, it works its way out of the chaotic conditions of its international relations.”

-Immanuel Kant, Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View

Perhaps the world gets bleaker as I get older, but current events are unraveling ominously. There is a darkness behind every corner, an invisible, grotesque hate finding its way into the hearts of Man. Or maybe it was always there, and for some reason the current climate of morality has allowed this disease to spread. White supremacists on the march, antisemitism, mass killings, exposed perversions of the rich, famous, and powerful, misogyny, secession, division, political corruption, war, and more war. Sure, the world has always had a balance of good and evil, but lately that balance has bled.

Among the constant stream of A.S. Roma headlines on the CdT, a barbaric bombshell of news somehow slipped through without being reported. Of course there was mention, and likely comments from many of us in the threads, but the incident was never given proper dissection. Justice was never bestowed. And now the event, just like so many atrocities happening today, is at the risk of being forgotten as if its implications are commonplace.

20 years ago in a derby match with Roma, Lazio fans held a banner that read: Auschwitz Is Your Homeland; The Ovens Are Your Homes. Just weeks ago, supporters littered stickers with the image of Anne Frank wearing a Roma jersey. In an immediate public relations maneuver to save face, Lazio President, Claudio Lotito, pledged to send 200 fans each year on a visit to Auschwitz. Along with that gesture, he visited Rome’s synagogue with a wreath like a man delivering a get well soon card. Shortly later, the president was caught calling the visit a “charade” and the peace offering was found floating in the Tiber River.

SS Lazio Delegation Vists Rome Synagogue Photo by Marco Rosi/Getty Images

While these chauvinistic displays are carried out by the few, and should not be used to hold judgement over the whole, it is prudent to acknowledge the recurrences. And it is not just the fans, but the players as well. Ex-Laziale, Paulo Di Canio, who claims to be a fascist, not a racist, was known for saluting fans in Nazi fashion. Just last year, Bosnian midfielder, Senad Lulic was suspended for a racist remark against Antonio Rudiger in which he openly said, “two years ago he was selling socks and belts in Stuttgart, now he acts like he’s a phenomenon. It's not his fault, really, but the fault of those who are around him. They haven't taught him good manners.” The implication of his words did not go unnoticed by the footballing world, and Lulic has since apologized. Still, words and actions build reputations, and Lazio will have their history to thank for the evils that define them.

So comes the derby. And while a game cannot solve the moral dilemma that shrouds Italian football, a victory for Roma can bring a profound, symbolic meaning. While Lazio’s ultras use vile, derogatory means to taunt their enemies, Roma can prove their worth on the pitch. Is that not the only thing that matters? Only the mentally weak mind would try to debase his rival by using racism. And although Roma’s ultras are no saints, they have thankfully not retaliated similarly. Morality must be present even in a derby, and despite the atmosphere of a rivalry— the taunting, the bragging rights, and even the politics— it is the players’ sportsmanship that speak volumes.

AS Roma v FK Austria Wien - UEFA Europa League Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

As always, the Derby della Capitale will be a heated exchange. Moreover, there are several plotlines that make this match special: Kolorov the turncloak, the first derby without Totti, and the proximity of both sides in the league table. Figuratively speaking, this game is the ultimate battle between good and evil. Roma have a chance to right the wrong that plagues Italian sport. Not to win for the simple glory of the being the city’s top team, but to win for the good, to stand up against racism, antisemitism, and hate, and to prove that they are the team who are morally just. Roma must transcend the bigotry. And even if they fail, the neutral spectators will hope the game is not tarnished by an immoral exhibition. There is too much hate these days. The sporting world should serve as an escape from the unsavory realities of life, not amplify them. It is not solely about who is the better team, but who are the better people. May Roma win the battle on the field without degradation.