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Italy failed to take a step forward with the election of Tavecchio as FIGC president

Giuseppe Bellini

Italian football has spoken, and they've selected Carlo Tavecchio as the man to head up the Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio (FIGC). The 71-year-old, formerly head of Lega Nazionale Dilettanti, earned 63.63% of the vote, beating out challenger Demetrio Albertini.

And so it goes. Calcio has missed its chance, once again, to modernize, to prove that it is a league in harmony with the rest of Europe. Instead, the clubs have thrown their backing behind an old man who has no problem labeling African players as "banana-eaters." The entirety of LND gave him their support, as did much of Serie A. There were some holdouts, fortunately. AS Roma and Juventus had never given him their backing. After his racist remarks, Torino, Sampdoria, Sassuolo, Empoli, Cagliari, Cesena and Fiorentina joined in to issue a statement addressing their concerns. Cesena, however, reverted back to supporting Tavecchio.

Unfortunately, much of the concern was down to the need to reform Italian football, and the belief that neither candidate was up for the job. Clubs spoke out about Tavecchio's racism -- Sampdoria and Sassuolo come to mind as issuing statements withdrawing their support -- but no one seemed all that fired up. The focus remained on how to reform the system, meaning the players allowed to join clubs in Italy and how that would affect the national team.

Not, then, how to reform a system that creates a hostile and dangerous environment for both players and fans. The racism endemic on the peninsula is disgusting and disturbing, and there are no signs it is about to diminish -- particularly with Tavecchio's appointment. If he chooses to call Africans "banana-eaters", why should he spend time trying to eliminate racist or ultra-nationalist expressions of hatred from the stands? And why would the clubs do anything to crack down on their own fans, if they feel the FIGC won't punish their behavior?

Italy have taken a short-sighted view of reformation. If they want their national team to return to its winning ways, their domestic league, too, must be strong -- particularly when almost every azzurri player belongs to a club within the country. They must play against the toughest competition, week in and week out, and they must send strong sides to European competitions to test themselves against the best of the best.

But that won't happen if Italy continues to be unable to shed its racist image. Each incident is garnering more and more attention, from racist chants at Lazio to bananas thrown at Atalanta. As its strength is on the decline, Serie A is already experiencing enough trouble attracting the best players. Soon even fewer will wish to play in Italy, a place they'll view as backward and hostile. As for Europe, should these incidents continue, clubs will find themselves playing behind closed doors, unsupported by their fans, or worse, shut out from the tournaments all together.

Italian football is ailing. Everyone knows that. Everyone, it seems, except the ones casting their votes for Tavecchio today. The chance to take a step forward was missed. Now, we can only hope that this appointment doesn't continue to drag Italy even further into backwardness.