The sports bar politics of television

W Piva, a parody of the world of football, is one of the first short stories by Stefano Benni. Later merged into the collection Sports Bar, I read it for the first time in a satirical periodical entitled «Il Mago»: Fruttero and Lucentini would also have directed it, 1970s, editorial archeology stuff. The little boy who kicked on the oratory pitch, hitting the wall of the church and causing the altar to overturn, did not hide in his name the caricatured reference to Gigi Riva, the striker of my youth. There was also a coach of South American origin, whose characteristic was to answer anyone, whatever the question, “la bala es tonda”: a truism, as true as it was of little or no significance.

Since those years, a lot has changed in football, as in society, and perhaps precisely since 1970 in Mexico City, where Gigi Riva, Sandro Mazzola, and for 6 minutes even Gianni Rivera, had to bow down to the green-gold excessive power played by Edson Arantes do Nascimento, the Pele whose loss has been mourned for days.

Much has changed, yet, following the many broadcasts dedicated to football, the same has remained, along with many clichés: it turns and turns, it’s a law of physics, the ball is always round.

I’ve always loved football, I’m passionate about the game, and even though I’m not a fan, I avidly follow many broadcasts that comment on everything that can be commented on. Often finding myself responding to my wife’s amused irony, «…but what is it that you follow with so much interest? But what are they saying?’ The reply is laconic: «Nothing!».

The bala is round. Can one endlessly discuss nothing, or almost nothing? In reality, we talk a lot about what we don’t say because – we say – that we can’t say. An example? Someone asks the coach about the next match with the bottom in the standings, the answer should be: «We have more than fifty points of difference, three world champions and a golden ball play against us, the wage bill is not even comparable so far we have scored 82 goals and conceded 17, they have conceded 71 and only scored 11… we can only win». It should! The answer we will hear, however, is a variant of: «It’s a difficult game, they play very well (that’s why they’re last!) They are well organized on the pitch, they have quality and also leg…».

Bah! Another game, does a player blatantly send the coach who has just replaced him to hell? What happened? “I didn’t notice, I didn’t see the images, however it happens every now and then… and if anything, these are things we talk about in the locker room”.

Because? Why not in front of the microphones? What prevents us from saying things as they are, as they are seen on TV, as it is quite obvious that they are? How can we be surprised if then, as happened with the Inter coach Mourinho when he yelled loud and clear that he wasn’t taking lessons from someone who had won “zero titles” in his professional life, the declaration “explodes like a bomb”? Is it a great communicator or one who perhaps, occasionally, says what he thinks instead of letting it be understood?

On these pages I have already commented on how in Italy the political discourse leans, at least since Silvio Berlusconi’s “descent into the field”, on the football one, having transformed those who were militants into fans. At the opening of the Chambers, on live TV, the Knight sent the aspiring and then elected President of the Senate to be blessed. Moral: «Scaramucce, normal parliamentary dialectic!». Come on! It is always time, for someone, for “fibrillations”, for “frank exchanges of views”, for “words interpreted out of context”. It is true, a reticence made of political tongues also characterized the First Republic. So, not by chance, Sandro Pertini and, shortly after, Francesco Cossiga, marked an evident difference: the first conquering the Italians for his frankness, the second disconcerting them with his pickaxes.

It is no coincidence that it was Beppe Grillo’s «vaffa» that marked the transition between the second and the third: in between, at most, a few Bersan parables.

We live, it is true, in a world immersed in communication, but what really leaves its mark is a very rare commodity: on the one hand, the social cacophony, where the inescapable cafonaggine is often passed off as frankness, on the other, all the unsaid, the cross-references, ellipses, talking about what is not said and with which, instead “we confront each other in the locker room”. Sincerity is only for the admitted few, for the rest it is obvious, sometimes acceptable but still insignificant.

Perhaps, in replying to my wife, I follow football broadcasts to avoid the frustration of political talk shows: nothing for nothing, better to agree resignedly than the bala is round!

The sports bar politics of television