What are those flags you see in Italian races?

Monday, 18 October 2010

Followers of cycling will note that the finish of a race often sees many flags being waved. My favourite is the “Dirk Hoffman Motorhomes” board, a common sight in Belgian classics. It’s inevitable, the finish line is filmed in detail and the images are repeated on news broadcasts. In other words, it’s valuable airtime.

I’ve written before about the Lion of Flanders flags and how these are political symbols. Well the same is true in Italy too. Anyone watching the arrival of the Tour of Lombardy can’t have missed the giant Padania flags waving over the finish line.

Padania was long the name for the Po valley, Padus being the Latin name for Italy’s longest river. But in more recent years the term Padania has been used by politicians wanting to break up Italy and they lobby for the north of the country to split from the south. So these flags are the symbol of the political grouping the Lega Nord, or Northern League.

I won’t cover the detail too much but as background Italy and Italians are often fiercely proud of their regions. You aren’t just Italian, you are often Tuscan or Calabrian too. Indeed the country is made up of various kingdoms that were united in the 19th century, the completion of this occurred after the US civil war. Today some Italian politicians try to exploit these currents as well as other differences, notable the wealth gap between the north and south. The politics involved here is of a very populist form and its leader has twice received a suspended custodian sentence. It’s not moderate to say the least.

Anyway, when you see the flags waving at the finish it’s because politics is trying to hijack the moment.

Photo: cyclingnews.com

This is part of a series on European life called “out of competition” where I try to show a few things that go beyond bike racing. For more items see the following:

Out of Competition
Part I: another other side to Belgium
Part II: Is Belgium splitting apart?
Part III: The Bike as a Way Out
Part IV: The Walloon Cockerel
Part V: Belgian Government Collapses
Part VI: Young, Gifted and Credit Blacklisted
Part VII: Belgian elections
Part VIII: The summer of Spain
Part IX: Preparing for the break-up of Belgium
Part X: Those flags you see in Italian races

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{ 4 comments }

David N. Welton October 18, 2010 at 2:39 pm

To be a bit nitpicky:

"Padania" to describe the Po river valley was not very common until the Lega Nord started using it. It existed, but wasn't very widespread.

> You aren't just Italian, you are often Tuscan or Calabrian too.

I would say you are Tuscan or Calabrian, and *then* Italian, for many people. Many identify even more with a city. One local I know here in Padova rattled off a list of major and minor defects with people from other towns here in the Veneto. He wasn't entirely serious, but those are the stereotypes.

In any case, yes, it's annoying to see the flag of a political party waving around in a sporting event like that.

TheInnerRing October 18, 2010 at 2:44 pm

Hi David, good points. Yes maybe I didn't use the right words but I meant to say "Padania" was almost a long forgotten idea. As for regions and nationality, I know what you mean but was being cautious on stereotypes about regional pride too.

gilberto October 22, 2010 at 10:23 am

I'm an italian cycling's fan exactly from padova as I feel put in cause on this matter I'd like to give you a little precisation on. Padania never existed as a national or cultural identity in past centuries like for exemple the basque country. it's a political invention by the lega party since the 90ties to vehiculate the message of the nord's secession from the rest of italy that they consider a mass of thieves (see the slogan Roma ladrona). Padania exists as long as lega will. they are probably the most influent party of the governement's coalition and they try to impose in this way their rules like the xenophobia. my land is cycling addicted so you can explain the presence of those flags as symbols of padanian proud in the most important cycling's events. it' very frustrating to see those things because even my favourite sport is occupated by their barbarian ideas.
p.s. the symbol in thruth is a very ancient one called "il sole delle alpi" but was trademarked as politic. a great scandal has come since in Adro, in Bergamo, another cyclist city, the town major built up an inferior school in which you could count no less than 700 of those symbols, on the babies'desks, doors, windows, gardens. this sounds like an explict propaganda on the poor childrens and so were (luckly)soon removed.
thanks

TheInnerRing October 22, 2010 at 10:27 am

Gilberto, thank-you very much for the precision and explanation.

And Yes, it is just an old term that has been revived into something more. As for the flag itself, I have seen old mosaics and other representations in Piemonte, these existed long before the political appropriation.

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