Italy mobilises in support of women’s football and calls for resignation of amateur league chief

The sexists and homophobic remarks made by the president of Italy’s amateur football association Felice Belloli referring to female players as “a bunch of lesbians” have shocked and outraged Italy.

The comments came as Belloli discussed funding for women’s football in the country at a meeting of the Lega Nazionale Dilettanti (LND).

At a meeting Belloli said: “That’s enough, we can’t always talk about giving money to this bunch of lesbians.”

The Italian Football Association (FIGC) opened an investigation last Friday after receiving the minutes of the meeting, but the 65 year-old promptly denied making the comments.

Football and politics condemn the remarks
Belloli’s remarks caused an outcry in Italy with several football representatives, clubs and politicians demanding the resignation of the head of the LND.

Following the comments, players of the two finalist clubs of the Italian women’s cup, ACF Brescia Femminile and Tavagnacco, threatened to boycott the final, a move that was confirmed yesterday morning, as the association representing female players and coaches confirmed the postponing of the match.

"We the players have asked not only for Belloli to resign, but also to leave the LND and become an autonomous, independent league, reporting directly to the FIGC [Italian FA]," Brescia and Italy midfielder Martina Rosucci told ESPN.

"This is the only way we can get rid of our amateur status and take the first step toward making the game professional. If we see that our requests are not heard or if they show that they are not willing to change things, then we are not going to play in the final on Saturday."

Both the Italian players (AIC) and managers unions (AIAC) have also called on Belloli to resign.

The Italian football star Francesco Totti expressed his support and said: “Football belongs to all: men, women, children and disabled people.

“Football is the motor of Italian sport and the respect to women’s football has to be the same given to men’s football because we are all part of the same family”.

Over the weekend, players of the Italian women Serie A protested against the remarks by delaying the kick-off of matches and displaying banners calling for respect.

Josefa Idem, German Olympian and former Italian minister for sports and equal opportunity, said: “I am going to address this with the president of the Italian council of ministers to intervene and fire the LND president.

“There are two women confirming the very serious comments made by Felice Belloli: Patrizia Cottini, secretary of the women’s football department, and Sonia Pessotto, former player and counselor of the FIGC women’s football committee.

“I will also address the development of women’s football to amend the damage done to the image of women’s sport”.

Luisa Rizzitelli, president of the national association for female athletes, and the LND members Fabrizio Tonelli and Alberto Manbelli, are also among those calling for Belloli to resign.

The Italian Fare member Balon Mundial said: "Every day we fight against this, we fight against all forms of discrimination.

"It is everybody's right to play sport and be part of the game. But, as you see, in Italy we still miss communication to level sports and respect the less popular ones."

FIGC await for LND meeting
The LND will hold today a meeting to discuss the incident.

Ahead of the meeting, the LND counselor Salvatore Colonna stressed: “If he does not have the necessary political support to govern, how can he do it? For me he must resign but we must see what will be decided at tomorrow’s meeting.”

Questioned about the incident the FIGC president Carlo Tavecchio said: “If Belloli said these words then it is a serious matter. It is an odious and unacceptable phrase.”

“This situation is very embarrassing [for Italian football].

“We are waiting for the LND to take the required measures to address the case, otherwise we will be forced to intervene."

In a note on the federation's website Tavecchio added that more money will be spent on women's football.

"In a period of objective economic difficulties, women's football is the area where we are investing more," he wrote.

Meanwhile Giovanni Malagò, head of the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI), also referred to the comments as "totally unacceptable" and urged a fast investigation into who said what at the meeting.

Social movements triggered by Belloli’s words
On social media and the Internet, social movements arose to protest against the discriminatory remarks and demand support for women’s football.

A Facebook page for the rights of women in sport and football players was created on 19 May just after the controversy blew up in Italy.

Under the hash tag "rispettaci" (respect) athletes, such as the tennis player Flavia Pennetta, clubs and general public are also showing their support.

Earlier this week, the Italian website donnecalcio.it launched an initiative, backed by Elisabetta Cortani, president of Lazio feminile, to call on football fans, players and men’s football to demonstrate in support of women’s football.

On 30 May demonstrations demanding respect, support and equality for women’s football will take place across the country in several main cities, including Roma, Naples, Florence, Turin or Bologna.

The organisers are calling on more cities to join in and support the initiative.

"Contro ogni forma di intolleranza e ignoranza! diamo il VERO valore alle calciatrici #respect" pic.twitter.com/F83EYmAbqf

— Manolo Gabbiadini (@Mgabbia23) May 16, 2015

Per i diritti umani, per il rispetto, per i diritti delle donne, dentro e fuori dallo sport, e, in questi giorni,... http://t.co/GciSpbFdIh — Luisa Rizzitelli (@luisarizzitelli) May 21, 2015

Su 600 calciatori-pro solo 2 con le calciatrici: @Mgabbia23 e il Mito @TottiOfficial #Belloli #Calcioscommesse #Totti pic.twitter.com/32gv8xemVH

— Luisa Rizzitelli (@luisarizzitelli) May 21, 2015

@katia_serra @luisarizzitelli @Arturifra @GenereSport #respect #calciatrici #Bellolidimettiti http://t.co/fNKAVdBhTj pic.twitter.com/dpgIka93mJ — Whiteorchidea (@whiteorchidea25) May 18, 2015

http://t.co/J0bbcr2vcu @katia_serra @novellanews @josefaidem @matmartini95 ASSURDO!! #Belloli

— Res Roma C.f. (@ResRomaCalcioFe) May 18, 2015

@Martina @martasartini EQUITY IS QUALITY #rispettaci pic.twitter.com/TubSENQ6Tg — Flavia Pennetta (@flavia_pennetta) May 18, 2015

#rispettaci #calciofemminile pic.twitter.com/1jZSA0cw5j

— Res Roma C.f. (@ResRomaCalcioFe) May 15, 2015

Il bello del #calciofemminile: PULCINE ACF LIVORNO prime al torneo di Genova. #rispettaci pic.twitter.com/KsCr2rWXTj — Martina Angelini (@MartiAngelini) May 17, 2015

Perché lo sport deve essere uguale per tutti... #calciofemminile #rispettaci pic.twitter.com/iMeZW5Ytdj

— Martina Angelini (@MartiAngelini) May 18, 2015

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