Italy bans number 88 from soccer shirts in drive against antisemitism

Agreement between interior, sports ministers and sports governing body also calls for halting games ‘in the event of antisemitism chanting or behavior’

Lazio's Toma Basic seen with the number '88' on his shirt during a Serie A soccer match between Lazio and Sasusolo at Rome's Olympic Stadium, in Rome, Italy, May 3, 2023. (Gregorio Borgia/AP)
Lazio's Toma Basic seen with the number '88' on his shirt during a Serie A soccer match between Lazio and Sasusolo at Rome's Olympic Stadium, in Rome, Italy, May 3, 2023. (Gregorio Borgia/AP)

Soccer players in Italy were banned Tuesday from wearing the number 88 on their shirts as part of an antisemitism initiative coordinated by Italy’s government and soccer federation (FIGC).

The country’s interior and sport ministers, as well as the coordinator in combating antisemitism, signed an agreement with FIGC chief Gabriele Gravina to battle the phenomenon in Italian stadiums.

The agreement also provides for matches being interrupted “in the event of antisemitism chanting or behavior.” It includes the addition of a code of ethics in accordance with the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

The number 88 is a reference to the Nazi Germany slogan “Heil Hitler” as the letter “h” is the eighth letter of the alphabet.

Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi said the moves are “an adequate and efficient response to intolerable prejudice that too often arises in our stadiums.”

Soccer federation president Gabriele Gravina added, “Soccer’s credibility, which gets hurt and damaged by discriminatory behavior, has a direct reflection on Italian society.”

Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi attends a session of the lower Chamber, in Rome, on March 7, 2023. (Gregorio Borgia/AP)

One Lazio fan was pictured wearing a replica top with the name “Hitlerson” and the number 88 on the back during March’s local derby with Roma.

He was a German supporter and one of three people banned for life from attending matches by Lazio.

That match was also marred by mass antisemitic chants by Lazio fans, an offense that led to a suspended one-match stand closure.

A fortnight before, a group of around 100 Lazio fans were filmed proudly calling themselves racist in a chant that insulted Roma supporters by saying their fathers were deported to Nazi concentration camps.

The incident was one of a litany involving Lazio’s hardcore fans, some of the most right-wing in a country where fascist fan groups are a widespread phenomenon.

Lazio fans display banners from the stands reading ‘Auschwitz is Your Homeland. The Ovens are Your Homes’ during a Serie A match between Lazio and AS Roma, at Rome’s Olympic stadium, on November. 29, 1998. (Plinio Lepri/AP)

Last season the handler of Lazio’s eagle mascot praised dictators Benito Mussolini and Francisco Franco after being suspended by the club for performing a fascist salute at the end of a match.

Two players in Serie A — Atalanta midfielder Mario Pasalic and Lazio’s Toma Basic, both Croatia internationals — wore the number 88 on their shirts in the season just finished.

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