Serie A team Cagliari, led by midfielder Daniele Dessena, are taking on entrenched homophobia in Italian soccer by wearing rainbow-colored laces in their boots to express solidarity with gay people.
Dessena, a former Italian under-21 international, joined a campaign promoted by gay rights groups and Irish bookmaker Paddy Power when he donned the multicolored laces at Milan’s San Siro against Inter on Feb. 23.
Struggling Cagliari managed a 1-1 draw with their illustrious rivals, but Dessena was the target of homophobic abuse from many of the Sardinian team’s own fans on the club’s blog and on other Web sites.
Rather than withdraw from the limelight, though, Dessena hit back on the same social media, calling his critics “stupid and ignorant,” and announcing he would wear the laces for the rest of the season.
Support swelled for the former Parma and UC Sampdoria player for what was seen as a courageous stand in the world of Italian soccer, where homosexuality is largely a taboo subject.
World Cup-winning former national coach Marcello Lippi famously said in 2009 that he did not believe there were any gay players in Italian professional soccer.
At Euro 2012 Italy striker Antonio Cassano was forced to apologize after he said at a press conference that he hoped there were no froci (a derogatory slang term for gays) in the national team.
“We should all do something to improve our society, not just fighting homophobia, but also racism and all the other types of discrimination,” Dessena, who is not gay himself, said in an interview with daily La Stampa.
“I didn’t think wearing two colored bootlaces could spark all this furor, this shows Italian society is really backwards,” the midfielder said.
Sections of numerous Italian stadiums have been repeatedly closed over the past year due to fans making monkey noises at black players or chanting abuse at citizens from the poor south of the country in what is outlawed in Italy as “territorial discrimination.”
In Cagliari’s home match against Udinese last Sunday, three of Dessena’s teammates also wore the rainbow laces — Chilean striker Mauricio Pinilla, Colombian striker Victor Ibarbo and Brazilian defender Danilo Avelar.
Ibarbo was among the scorers in a surprise 3-0 victory for Cagliari, helping the team move further away from the relegation zone.
Online comments on social media show more and more Cagliari supporters are now convinced that the colored laces are not only a worthy campaign, but are also bringing their team luck.