Dossier: Blasphemy, God and Calcio - What does the law say about the crime of blasphemy in Italy?

By Boris Abbate published on 26 Feb 2021

What do Milan Skriniar, Manuel Lazzari, Gianluigi Buffon and Bryan Cristante (to name a few) have in common? Their hair color? Of course not. Their number of minutes played this season? Absolutely not. In fact, all of them have been - or risked - suspension for profanity. In other words, all of them have been under the spotlight of the Serie A for having made comments They were "insulting, contemptuous or disrespectful to the deity".

These facts are quite surprising for our time, and could easily take place in one of the many George Orwell-like dystopias, as freedom of expression is nowadays considered as fundamental. However, in Italy and on all the lawns of the CalcioMore and more players are guilty of this kind of talk. And so they are caught by the justice of Italian soccer. This is the subject of our dossier that opens today, with a first approach to the legislative panorama that surrounds the crime of blasphemy on the other side of the Alps.

In Italy, blasphemy is still considered an administrative offence

It is therefore still possible, in 2021 - at a time when humanity is sending probes to Mars and deploying RNA technology vaccines at great speed - to be condemned for having made contemptuous or hurtful remarks towards anything related to the divine. Yes, this is surprising and raises eyebrows. Especially in France, where the art of blasphemy is set up as a quasi sacred custom and ultra representative of the freedom of expression (Charlie Hebdo, Mila affair etc).

However, in Italy, the situation is not quite the same. Even worse, for Italian soccer players, the lack of respect towards religions can sometimes be costly. And it is not our national Gigi Buffon who will say the opposite. He became the target of the authorities after having made remarks that could be considered blasphemous (following an audio recording) during the last Juventus in Parma.

But what does the Italian law say about blasphemy? Is despising the gods and the divine in any way still punishable by law? Although the Catholic religion is no longer the state religion in Italy, it continues to play a very important social and political role today. And even though blasphemy has been decriminalized since 1999, it is still an administrative offence today. "Any person who swears publicly, with invectives or outrageous words, against the divinity is punished with the administrative penalty ranging from 51 euros to 309 euros" The latest version of article 724 of the Italian Penal Code attests to this.

A forgotten crime but sometimes repressed...

Italy is thus one of the few major Western democracies to have courts that convict a citizen for blasphemy. In 2015, in Milan, for example, the artist Xante Battaglia had exhibited in the center of the city three photographs depicting Pope Benedict XVI, his secretary Georg Gaenswein and a male sexual organ between them. Considered very vulgar and conducive to the defamation of the Catholic religion, the work had to be removed and Xante Battaglia was fined 800 euros by the Italian Supreme Court.

The same goes for Nicolò De Paoli, the 27-year-old lambda man, who in 2017 posted a video of himself on Facebook in which he insulted the Carabinieri army and made blasphemous remarks. 103 euros were inflicted on him for his blasphemy expressed online. Even bigger, on October 18, 2014, TV presenter Tiberio Timperi, during the recording of a program, uttered a blasphemy against the Virgin during the announcement of a guest in the studio. The TV station was then fined €25,000.

However, despite these well-known examples, and even though in Italy the Penal Code contains several articles that condemn blasphemy, the sanctions are not always applied. As it is the case in the Calcio. Who has made blasphemy his new passion.

... whose Calcio has made it its new priority

Since 2010, the Italian federation has taken a tougher stance, making blasphemy or any other language that undermines the divinity punishable by disciplinary sanctions. Referees are free to decide whether to send off a player in the event of blasphemy, but it is often the disciplinary committee that decides on sanctions after reviewing the images. And since the coronavirus pandemic and the lack of tifosi in the stadiums, almost everything can be heard during a Serie A match. And the Italian federation takes great pleasure in over-analyzing and dissecting any words of a player that could be associated with a blasphemous act. This is the subject of our second part of this dossier, which is coming very soon

Also read: 

1 - Part 1: What does the law say about the crime of blasphemy in Italy?

2 - Part 2: The crime of blasphemy in Serie A 

3 - Part 3: Why is Italy doing this?


Boris Abbate


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