Charlestown City Blues and members of the Italian community are confident they can win a legal battle to have the Azzurri name returned to the Northern NSW NPL club in what could be a landmark case for Australian soccer.
Charlestown club secretary Roger Steel lodged a racial discrimination complaint, signed by 107 people, on behalf of the Italian community to the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) in a bid to have Azzurri, which is Italian for blue, reinstated.
The move came after unsuccessful submissions were made to Northern NSW Football and Football Federation Australia.
Three weeks ago, Steel and long-time club supporters Anthony Di Nardo and Roby Valentinis held a conciliation meeting with NNSWF and FFA representatives at the AHRC in Sydney.
Steel said no resolution was secured but the federations were asked to respond to the group’s submission by close of business on Wednesday. He was still awaiting a reply last night.
The group is challenging FFA’s 2014 National Club Identity Policy (NCIP), which bans ethnic, national, political, racial or religious connotations in club names, logos or emblems.
Azzurri were cut in a revamp of the NNSW State League at the end of 2008 and later merged with the Charlestown junior club. Under pressure, they removed Azzurri from their name. The creation of the NCIP in 2014 effectively blocked attempts to reinstate Azzurri.
However, Di Nardo, whose father Don helped form Azzurri in 1963, believed the club had been unfairly targetted given others in the region such as Hamilton Olympic, Broadmeadow Magic, Hamilton Azzurri and Hunter Simba have retained obvious links to their ethnic foundations.
He said the group was determined to take its case to the Supreme Court.
“I believe that if it’s not resolved now, we will more than likely commence legal action and within 60 days have them before the courts and let the court make the decision,” Di Nardo said.
“And I’m more than confident too. There’s plenty of precedents there.”
Steel said that in his original submission he outlined 150 Australian soccer clubs which use ethnic symbols on their emblems and at least 70 that have non-English names in their title.
“To single us out, but to leave other clubs and allow them to keep using their names, contrary to the policy at the time, is pretty clearly discriminatory,” Steel said.
“In recent years various people at the club would listen to the old supporters who would still turn up to the club each week, like Don Di Nardo, who were involved in forming the club back in 1963, and you could tell they were feeling genuine pain.
“We’d play games against Hamilton Olympic and very clearly they were celebrating their ethnic background, and the same at Magic, and it was hurting us.
“We thought we had to do something about this because it’s wrong. Enough is enough.
“It’s had a dramatic effect on our club. We had sponsors who said once the Azzurri name went, they lost interest. It’s much harder to get volunteers and sponsors, and it’s hurting people.”
Di Nardo believed success in the legal battle “would set the precedent for other clubs to challenge” the NCIP.
NNSWF chief David Eland said he was bound by confidentiality and unable to comment on the meeting. He said FFA was responding in its capacity as first respondent. NNSWF was second respondent.
Charlestown returned to the top division in 2014, the first year of the NNSW NPL.