In Castel Volturno a team of new Italians will not be able to play in the top 'Excellence' national basketball championship. Vittorio Scotto di Carlo, the team's coach, explains to us why this might finally lead to the granting of citizenship on the grounds of achievements in sport (ius soli sportivo).

We are in Castel Volturno, near Caserta. The coach of the local basketball team, TamTam, is called Vittorio Scotto di Carlo. He is aware that his team has recently been in the news not because of its achievements but because of its story. TamTam was established in 2016 by Massimo Antonelli, a former Italian basketball champion, whose initiative brought young people from immigrant families together on and off the basketball court. “These kids are foreign until they turn 18, according to the Italian government. In fact, they are more than Italian as they were all born here”.

So, between theory and reality, what’s happened?

«What happened is that, two years ago, regardless of the current regulations, the Italian Basketball Federation decided to let these kids join. It has to be said that the Federation was quite flexible. Thanks to an ad-hoc regulation, adopted for us by the then Minister Lotti, our boys were able to play in the regional championship. Last year, against all odds, we even won the championship. So we set our sights on the national ‘Excellence’ championship. But we were stopped by the Federation as the rules state that no team can have more than two foreign players, which I can agree with».

What do you mean? You agree with a rule that effectively excludes your team from the national championship?

«Of course! In the past, teams that were desperate to win enlisted foreigners, directly recruiting them from abroad and getting them to live in Italy just long enough to play. But this is another matter. I am defending the rights of kids who are genuinely Italian».

So, what are you asking for?

«We are sportsmen, not politicians. But TamTam is catalysing what is an inevitable historical event. Sooner or later, citizenship will be granted on the grounds of achievement in sports. It is very clear. What we need is a cultural revolution, but we cannot expect this to be led by the Basketball Federation, which is simply applying what the law states. This is the consequence of an inadequate legal requirement, or a punitive legal void».

But Coach, these are abstract concepts. What does this mean in practice?

«Kids born in Italy from foreign parents are already considered to be Italian by their peers, who will be future citizens and voters. I teach my pupils at school to be welcoming, not to differentiate. So, if we consider all kids in school in the morning as equals, and we ask the same of them, why should we divide them in the afternoon? I am not a legislator. I don’t know what the Basketball Federation could or could not do. Surely, letting them play would have been an act of great courage. But they got one thing wrong».

What?

«In the brief statement they issued they suggested that “in order to support the full integration and the technical betterment of the athletes” we should lend our players to other teams. That makes me laugh».

Why?

«Because it is a bureaucrat’s reply. Do they even understand what Castel Volturno is? We have serious social issues here. Poverty is endemic and these kids have really bad family situations. There are no buses and the kids walk to the gym. They arrive dead tired and then leave to go back home in the dark. The fact that we’ve managed to get them off the streets is a sporting miracle in itself. And what are we meant to do? We should suggest they go to Caserta perhaps?»

How did the players take it?

«I don’t want to be judgemental. Some were disappointed while others were happy anyway as winning the regional championship was a great achievement. We are the ones who’ve been left with a sour taste in our mouths. As their teachers, we’ve always told them to raise their expectations in life, to aim high, to always do better. What should I tell them now? Sorry boys, we’re not like everyone else, you should stop now».

Talking about being judgemental. What do you tell people who say you are practicing reverse racism?

«Before embarking on my adventure with TamTam, I hadn’t even realised how many immigrant families lived in Castel Volturno with kids who were born in Italy. You could say that we live in a town of dark skinned people. Massimo Antonelli, who is great at scouting invisible people, always knew that. He found a gym, he started a crowdfunder and he set up a great project. The truth is that we don’t have any white kids because they don’t want to come and train here».

And if they did, would the door be open for them?

«Of course. But you should know that inclusion does not happen from one day to the next and it is not up to TamTam. Inclusion is achieved in the long term as a result of significant initiatives and broad social interventions. In actual fact, yes, I have asked white kids I teach at school to come and join us but their parents declined the invite. They are scared. They are not used to it and they don’t have an open mind. Italy is not racist, it just has a closed mindset».

(Traduzione di Costanza de Toma)

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