Azzurri blue: Charlestown taking case against FFA, NNSWF to Supreme Court

Club supporter Roby Valentinis
Club supporter Roby Valentinis

CHARLESTOWN City and their Italian supporters are determined to take their case to the Supreme Court after failing at the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) to restore the name Azzurri to the club’s title.

The Blues filed a racial discrimination complaint, signed by 107 people, against Football Federation Australia and Northern NSW Football to the AHRC for denying their requests to have Azzurri, which is Italian for blue, reinstated to the club name.

A conciliation meeting was held at AHRC in Sydney three weeks ago in a bid to find a resolution. The soccer federations were given three weeks to provide a formal response, which was a rejection late Wednesday of Charlestown’s request. 

Charlestown secretary Roger Steel and long-time club supporters Anthony Di Nardo and Roby Valentinis attended the meeting after unsuccessful submissions to NNSWF and FFA.

Steel and Di Nardo reaffirmed on Friday their commitment to continue the fight in the Supreme Court.

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. If successful, the legal fight could prove a landmark case in Australian soccer.

Steel said the response was “disappointing but not unexpected”.

“The fact that they didn’t even get it in by the deadline suggests there’s a bit of lack of respect there,” Steel said.

The Herald story on the battle on Wednesday sparked national interest. Steel said Newcastle-based Association of Australian Football Clubs director Christo Patsan “had received phone calls from around the country with people reacting”.

“They are suggesting they want to ramp up the issue,” he said.

He was unsure, though, if the case could become a class action with other clubs.

“They are certainly making a lot of noise but we are waiting on advice from our barrister to see what she recommends,” he said. “If other clubs wanted to be part of some sort of class action, we would certainly be open to the idea.”

Steel said he had also contacted state member for Charlestown Jodie Harrison and federal member for Shortland Pat Conroy for support.

“Obviously I would have thought this kind of stuff was in breach of laws in this day and age, to treat different ethnic groups differently to one another,” he said.

Azzurri were cut in a revamp of the NNSW State League at the end of 2008 and later merged with the Charlestown United club. Under pressure, they removed Azzurri from their name and the creation of the NCIP in 2014 effectively ruled out its return. The Blues and their supporters believe they have been discriminated against, especially given fellow Northern NSW NPL clubs Hamilton Olympic, with their name, and Broadmeadow, with their Macedonian-themed emblem, have not changed.

Di Nardo, whose father Don helped form Azzurri in 1963, believed the club had been unfairly targetted.

“It’s what I expected in the first place because I think they will see the ramifications,” Di Nardo said of the response on Friday. “If they were to approve one club, there would be other challengers. But that entire policy is up for review.”

He believed Azzurri were the “only club made to change in the entire region”.

“Why act on Azzurri and not Magic and Hamilton? And why was it done five years before the revised policy came out from FFA?” he said.

NNSWF chief David Eland said he was unable to comment. The Herald sought a response from FFA.