Journalist Beppe Severgnini talks Olympics, London and Italians at Casa Italia

By Paola Bassanese

Celebrating his 40th year of his love for London, Beppe Severgnini paid a visit to the Italian residents in London at Casa Italia, the pop-up Italian Olympic village at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in Westminster. Superbly organised by Giancarlo Pelati of Italians of London, the debate was an informal meeting in a “home from home” setting.


He turned the format of the discussion on his head and he asked members of the audience questions about their experience of the Olympics.


Some members of the audience were either handpicked by Severgnini or were his existing contacts while others volunteered to be grilled on the stage.


A young woman called Olimpia joined the stage and Severgnini suggested that she should get an access all areas pass for the Olympic stadium because of her name.


The Olympic torch relay caused a heated debate: while for some it was a bit of an anti-climax, for others was a unique and uplifting experience. Severgnini reminded us that Brixton, where the Olympic torch relay created a storm, last year was the scene of the London riots.


An Italian maths teacher working in Bromley talked about deprived areas of London which received much needed funding to get pupils into sports.


Severgnini’s love for London is undying: he mentioned London is his favourite city in the world and went on to read from his recent articles on 30 reasons to love London.


Severgnini was a commentator for 4 Olympics and although each of the Olympic cities had their good points, London has a special place in his heart. He analysed the Opening ceremony and its quirks; quintessentially British, obscure in parts for foreigners, almost jingoistic. The normally self-deprecating British become suddenly nationalistic during the Olympics and other sporting events and put pressure on their sports teams to succeed and win at all costs. The running joke was that the English are good at inventing great sports like cricket, football, rugby but lose at all the games.


With all the expectations on Team GB to go for gold, it was somewhat disappointing that there weren’t any medals to be won on the first day of the Olympics after the spectacular Opening ceremony. In the meantime, the Italian team was quietly scooping medal after medal. Then again, Italians if win gold in archery that is not an achievement because it is not a proper sport. Archery, for some, is only a glorified form of a game of darts at the pub!

Severgnini’s tongue in cheek humour, very British at times, poked fun at both Italians and British alike.

There were some serious points too: talking about seriousness, Severgnini shared his insights into the cultural differences between Italians and English and the expectations of the latter toward those coming from the Bel Paese. The British expect from Italians to be serious, creative and reliable.