Sicily is rebooting the conversation on independence - starting with football
The perfect paradigm of the dynamics between politics, linguistic and cultural identity, and sport.
Sports can be "a vehicle of cultural identity," according to Salvatore Mangano, president of the newly formed Sicilian national team on the occasion of its first official competition. Along with five other teams representing as many other "nations without a state," the team is competing for the Mediterranean Futsal Cup 2021 in Sanremo.
The event has been coordinated by Francesco Zema of Conifa. This organisation brings together the representatives of communities and people who want to voice their cry for representation through sport and football, in particular. Sicily is Conifa's newest member, welcomed into the fold last June, and is the perfect paradigm of the dynamics between politics, linguistic and cultural identity, and sport.
"Conifa is a platform for people, so we can educate the world about their history, tradition and also, of course, show their ability on the pitch," says Per-Anders Blind, global president of the association of federations.
Fabio Petrucci, general secretary of the Sicilia Football Association, echoes this and affirms that "the Sicilian people [are]a people who [have] an extremely strong identity and yet also an extremely low level of awareness of this."
Petrucci goes on to explain the main purpose of this project with the following:
"Through football, we want to promote a process of rediscovery of our national identity and self-esteem that is currently lacking, and that is the key to start again and profit from the countless opportunities that our land has to offer."
This journey started on the 19th of May 2020, the anniversary date of the Sicilian statutes of autonomy, when a group of like-minded people, led by Mangano, decided it was time to put ink on paper and officially constitute an association. Since then, the Sicilia Football Association has built its foundations with a mostly subterranean work that culminated in June this year with the Conifa Membership and today with the participation in the first official futsal competition.
We will have to wait for 2022 to cheer the first football formation on the pitch, as the pandemic has slowed everything down.
During the Mediterranean Futsal Cup launch event in Sanremo, two of the three official kits were presented.
They bear names like Vespiru and Fidiricu, which are immensely meaningful for the Sicilian people. Many elements of the graphical identity of the association are borrowed by the long history of the Kingdom of Sicily as the critical moments when its independence has been questioned.
The first one commemorates the Sicilian Vespers of 1282 when the Sicilian people rose against the Angevin rule following the defeat of the last representative of the Norman-Swabian dynasty, king Manfred, at the hands of Charles I of Anjou at the Battle of Benevento (1266).
The second kit remembers Frederic III of Sicily, the king who maybe more than any other Sicilian ruler was a strenuous defender of the right of the island-kingdom to exist, despite huge international pressure against it and a powerful coalition of enemies.
During the presentation and throughout the tournament, the Sicilian representative has been introduced with the notes of its chosen anthem, the well-known cabaletta Suoni la tromba from the opera I Puritani written by Sicilian composer Vincenzo Bellini.
According to biographer Helen Rappaport, the opera, one of Queen Victoria's favourites translated political themes of the fight for liberty and patriotic passion from the suffered reality of the 1830s to an idealised scenario set during the Civil War.
The aria, which has been dubbed a "hymn to liberty," is certainly well suited to represent the Sicilian national team's energy and passion. Its musical nature (that has been accosted to the Marseillaise by musicologist Mary Ann Smart because of the similar compelling character) will undoubtedly enhance the organizers' hopes of rekindling the flames of Sicilian independence.