Italian Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese | Photo: ANSA/Tino Romano
Italian Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese | Photo: ANSA/Tino Romano

In Italy, the Olympic Committee chief has sparked a renewed debate over citizenship law by demanding reforms so young athletes born to foreign parents can compete for Italy. Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese has indicated that she's open to discussing 'ius soli' (birthright citizenship) for athletes and others, drawing criticism from Matteo Salvini.

Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese on Monday expressed willingness to discuss a proposal made by Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) chief Giovanni Malagò to speed up the bureaucratic process to get the citizenship for athletes born in Italy to non-nationals.

Under Italy's current citizenship law, people born in Italy to non-Italian parents have to wait until they are 18 to apply to get the Italian citizenship. This policy has long been controversial, with advocacy groups and UNICEF pushing for a change to a 'ius soli' (birthright citizenship) system, under which people born in Italy are automatically citizens.

Many successful athletes not born as Italian citizens

Giovanni Malagò argued that Italy loses out on athletic talent because young people born in Italy to migrant parents can't compete for their country -- not only do they have to wait until they are 18 to apply to become Italian citizens, they then also face a bureaucratic process that can take months and years to complete.

Italy recently placed tenth in the medal count at the Tokyo Olympics, with a record number of 40 medals -- ten gold, ten silver and twenty bronze.

News site Euronews reported that 46 of the Italian athletes who competed in the recent Olympics were foreign-born, according to Italy's Olympic Committee. This includes medal winners, such as US-born Lamont Marcell Jacobs, who won two gold medals as a runner in the men's 100 meters event and with the 4 x 100 meter team event.

Salvini against 'ius soli' reforms

Lamorgese said that citizenship law was "an issue that is important" and that Italy should ensure that "second-generation immigrants ... feel like an integral part our society ... not only when our athletes win medals."

Matteo Salvini, the leader of the far-right League party, criticized Lamorgese's statement, saying that "instead of speaking uselessly about 'ius soli' reform, the interior minister should control who enters Italy illegally."

Critics accuse Salvini of hypocracy, exploiting issue

Enrico Letta, the secretary of the center-left Democratic Party (PD), responded saying that the issue of citizenship reform had nothing to do with security or migrant management. "Those who exploit the issue of Ius Soli citizenship reform are simply refusing to look at the reality," he said. "(Citizenship law reform) has to do with equality, integration, and the vitality of a society that has changed despite the factious interpretation made by populists."

The co-spokesman of the Europa Verde party, Angelo Bonelli, praised interior minister Lamorgese, saying that: "These youths (born to foreigners in Italy) should feel like an integral part of society. It is paradoxical that Salvini is speaking about (this) while celebrating the Olympic medals won by athletes that were not born in Italy."

Government divided over citizenship

Meanwhile, the undersecretary of the interior ministry, League party member Nicola Molteni, criticized the proposal by the CONI chief. "Citizenship is a status, not a right. The law on citizenship should not be changed," he said. He claimed that "ius soli will never pass" because "the League party will make sure of this."

Forza Italia Member of Parliament Deborah Bergamini said that "more than trying to introduce new forms of ius soli," what is needed is to "make the current system work better." She added: "In any case, great job to Chairman Malagó and all Italian athletes for this Italian record-setting year."


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