Racism row over Trieste half-marathon


Participants in action during the 42nd Madrid Marathon in Madrid, Spain, 27 April 2019Image copyright

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Marathon runners in Madrid

Organisers of the Trieste half-marathon have reversed a ban on professional African athletes after an outcry in Italy and the launch of an inquiry.

Event manager Fabio Carini had originally defended the ban by saying it was to highlight that African runners were underpaid by their agents.

However, the controversial decision was described by critics as racist.

Mr Carini later apologised for causing offense but said a “fundamental issue of ethics” had been highlighted.

The issue of racism in sport made headlines earlier this month when Juventus’ teenage forward Moise Kean was the target of racist abuse in a Serie A match.

Anti-racism campaigners in Italy say the government promotes fear and hatred to spread division.

A decree issued in September makes it easier to deport migrants and take away their citizenship if they commit serious crimes.

Under the new governing coalition, Italy has tried to close its ports to boats with migrants travelling across the Mediterranean.

How was the original ban justified?

The Trieste Running Festival is to be held on 5 May.

Mr Carini, president of Apd Miramar, the company organising the event, told Italian newspaper La Repubblica on Friday: “This year we have decided only to take European athletes to make the point that measures must be taken to regulate what is currently a trade in high-value African athletes, who are purely and simply exploited, which is something we can no longer accept.”

Organisers of such events in Italy, he said, were “under pressure from unscrupulous managers who exploited these athletes offering them very low fees… often not giving them anything”.

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Some organisers pay top athletes an attendance fee to take part

“The race is open to all,” he added. “Organisers barred only the top runners, the African professionals, from taking part to denounce unequal treatment.

“African athletes are not paid according to their real value.”

Mr Carini went on to mention an instance where an African marathon runner had been abandoned in Italy previously without a return ticket home.

In response, the Italian Athletics Federation (Fidal) opened an investigation to establish the facts and ascertain whether its rules and regulations had been broken.

Later on Saturday, Mr Carini issued a statement to Italian media where he said African athletes would be invited after all.

“I accept we should have raised the issue differently and with a different timing and that’s what we will do,” he said. “I regret the reactions to this decision and apologise to those people who felt offended.”

However, he still insisted that he had raised an issue of exploitation that “does exist and is often ignored by organisers of running events”.

What did others say?

Among the first to react to the original ban was Isabella De Monte, an MEP with the centre-left Democratic Party.

“The exploitation of athletes is being used as a fig leaf – regarding such questions, there are places and appropriate bodies to turn to,” she said. “The situation is getting really out of hand and we’re in the danger of returning to the dark times.”

Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio described the decision as “folly”.

“It is right to fight against the exploitation of African runners… but it is not done like this; the issue is not addressed by excluding them from the race. In fact, the issue becomes more serious.”

Massimiliano Fedriga, president of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region that includes Trieste, however, defended the organisers.

“It is a real problem and turning your back on it is not human, but opportunistic.”

How are athletes paid?

It is not clear who pays top contenders taking part in events like the Trieste half-marathon.

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Top athletes are courted by organisers for months on end to secure their participation

Mr Carini suggested they were not paid by his organisation. Apd Miramar have not yet responded to a BBC request for clarification.

Top world athletes taking part in full marathons – like the one being held in London on 28 April – are usually paid an attendance fee by organisers, in addition to extra payment for their performance on the day, as well as sponsorship money.

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