Italy has banned number 88 on football jerseys from next season as part of an initiative aimed at combating anti-semitism in football stadiums across the country.

In the last few years, Italian football witnessed a rise in anti-semitism and racism incidents in the country’s stadiums. Incidents of fans shouting abuse or regularly booing and making monkey gestures at black players have been reported across Italy. Dark-skinned players have been abused using the word “Jew” as an insult, and also by showing fascist or Nazi symbols.

In March 2023, a Lazio fan was spotted wearing a jersey with the name “Hitlerson”, and number 88 on his back during their derby clash against A.S. Roma at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. 

During the derby, two more Lazio supporters were identified doing fascist salutes and singing anti-semitic chants. Lazio later handed out lifetime bans to all three fans.

Why has Italy banned number 88 on football jerseys from next season?

In a major development, the Italian government and the Italian Football Association (FIGC) have signed a letter of intent aimed at tackling anti-semitism in football stadiums across the country.

According to the signed agreement, players are now prohibited from wearing number 88 on football jerseys at all levels of Italian domestic football leagues.

Number 88 can be depicted as a reference to a German Nazi slogan. Neo-Nazis used the number 88 as an abbreviation for the Nazi salute, “Heil Hitler”.

As per the agreement, football matches can also be suspended in the event of anti-semitic chants, acts and expressions.

“It is an appropriate and effective response to an intolerable prejudice that still too often manifests itself in our stadiums,” Italian Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi said after signing the agreement.

The agreement is part of the larger initiative that will also witness the introduction of a code of ethics in accordance with the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

“The world of football is united in the fight against antisemitism and all forms of discrimination,” FIGC President Gabriele Gravina added.

Parma goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, Lazio midfielder Toma Basic and Atalanta midfielder Mario Pasalic are some of the high-profile names who have donned the number 88 jersey in Italian football in the past.

During the 2000-01 season, legendary Italian custodian Buffon wore the number 88 jersey while playing for Parma. He was heavily criticized by the Jewish community, which forced him to change the shirt number. Buffon later apologized and claimed that he didn't know the significance of number 88.

The ban of the number 88 jersey comes as a welcome change in Italian football, which frequently is marred by racist and anti-semitic chants. While there is still a lot more work to do to tackle racist and anti-semitic chants in Italy, this initiative comes as a positive first step towards changing the perception of Italian football.

Photo credit: Alamy