Empty gestures, no action: Boateng’s Serie A arrival again demonstrates Italian football’s problem handling violence against women

Jerome Boateng's arrival in Serie A with Salernitana has highlighted, once again, that Italian football, despite the annual gestures, has a problem with handling violence against women.

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Usually in the world of football, fans greet the arrival of a high-profile player to their provincial club with excitement and anticipation. However, Salernitana signing Champions League and World Cup-winning defender Jerome Boateng has cast a shadow over Serie A and, not for the first time, raised serious moral and ethical concerns around Italian football.

Since November 2020, a Serie A matchday each season has been used to raise awareness of issues of male violence against women. The Elimination of Violence against Women campaign is now held annually, with players across Italy sporting a red mark on their cheek. But with Boateng, and all of the allegations and charges that have surrounded him, now landing in Italian football, it once again appears as though those annual gestures are no more than just that.

Whether the FIGC (Italian Football Federation) or Lega Serie A believe that the arrival of the 35-year-old contradicts their supposed commitment to social responsibility remains to be seen, but the Granata must be aware of how badly the arrival has gone down given the social media outrage in response to their official announcement video. A scroll through the replies to any of Salernitana’s Boateng-related posts will see mention after mention of Kasia LenhardtBoateng‘s former partner who was found dead in her home in 2021, a week after her split from the footballer.

Jerome Boateng’s troubled past: Accusations and charges

The most disturbing incidents of the former Manchester City and Bayern Munich defender’s off-field career involve the tragic death of Kasia Lenhardt and the convictions of assaulting former partner Sherin Senler.

In early 2021, Boateng‘s ex-girlfriend Lenhardt was found dead in her Berlin apartment at the tragically young age of 25, and on her son’s sixth birthday. Reports suggested that the Polish influencer had taken her own life shortly after the couple ended an often stormy relationship, and it raised questions around Boateng’s role in the events leading up to her death.

Lenhardt’s image and messages of ‘Rest in Peace’ filled the replies to Salernitana‘s official unveiling video on X, which appeared with the tagline ‘Salifornia Love’.

Even the choice of song (Tupac Shakur and Dr. Dre’s California Love) used by the club to accompany Boateng‘s announcement was – at best – misguided, given artist Dr. Dre‘s own record of violence against women.

Two years prior to Lenhardt‘s tragic passing, a German court had convicted Boateng for assaulting another former partner, Senler.

The footballer caused bodily harm during an altercation, and it highlights disturbing behaviour that certainly calls into question his suitability as a role model. This is especially true in a league supposedly committed to promoting positive values. During his trial and as reported by The Athletic, the judge said that he was “absolutely satisfied” that Boateng had hit, punched, spat at and insulted his former girlfriend.

Manolo Portanova’s continued selection shows the hypocrisy present in Serie B and Italian football

While Serie A players wear a red mark across their cheek in support of the Elimination of Violence against Women campaign, in November 2023, Serie B decided they would mark the occasion with a ceremonial red match ball that would then be used during the game, but failed to acknowledge an obvious double-standard that weekend.

Lining up for Reggiana that weekend was Genoa loanee Manolo Portanova, who had previously been charged for his involvement in the alleged gang rape of a woman in 2022, along with his uncle Alessio Langella and other men.

Portanova was sentenced to six years in prison and made to pay multiple costs to the victim, their mother and a Siena-based women’s shelter.

Genoa’s Manolo Portanova leaves the pitch for the Grifone in October 2022. (Photo: Getty)

That any club would consider selecting the midfielder, or that the authorities allow them to, is deeply troubling and sends a concerning message about priorities throughout the Italian football pyramid. Portanova’s inclusion compromises the integrity of the club and undermines the broader principles of justice and responsibility, clearly still lacking across Italian football.

If Boateng’s past has not raised important ethical considerations for Serie A and its clubs, and the latter is openly embracing a player with such a problematic track record, maybe Portanova still sees a future in the top flight, with parent club Genoa likely to remain for at least another 12 months.

On Portanova, there are now reports that the General Prosecutor’s Office for Sport has made an appeal for sanctions against the footballer, meaning there is the potential for a maximum five-year ban from the sport.

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