Milan walkout reignites racism row
Racist chanting that led AC Milan players to walk off the pitch during a friendly match provoked howls of outrage in Italy on Friday but also revived debate about whether authorities are doing enough to combat a deep-seated problem.
Milan's Ghanaian striker Kevin-Prince Boateng kicked the ball into the stands, removed his shirt and led his teammates off the pitch 26 minutes into the match on Thursday after monkey chants and jeers from fans of lower division team Pro Patria directed at him, Urby Emanuelson and Sulley Muntari.
The mayor of Busto Arsizio, the northern hometown of Pro Patria where the incident occurred, said his administration would sue the fans responsible for the chanting. Local police say they are questioning fans to identify the culprits.
"We have begun a civil claim against the imbecile thugs that have stained the city," mayor Gigi Farioli told Sky Italia television.
"Tomorrow an education drive will be launched, with concrete measures against racism in and out of the stadium," he said, adding that AC Milan and the players involved had been invited to participate. But he said Boateng was "unprofessional" to kick the ball at chanting fans.
Boateng's action was widely applauded, however, and prompted renewed criticism of authorities for not taking stronger action to wipe out the racist insults that are commonplace at Italian grounds.
"Finally, thanks to Boateng, there has been an adequate response to the demented people that chant racist choruses in the stadiums," wrote Pierluigi Battista in an editorial in the respected Corriere della Sera daily.
He called for games to be suspended and points deducted from the team of the offending fans even in Serie A matches as soon as there was racist chanting.
"Now is the time for the football authorities to stand up and do something. We need to see real actions that will have a genuine influence," former AC and Inter Milan player Patrick Vieira said on Twitter.
Italian football federation (FIGC) president Giancarlo Abete said the incident was "unspeakable and intolerable" but critics say the federation needs to take much more draconian action than the relatively small fines it has imposed on clubs in the past.
Late last year 10 fans of London side Tottenham Hotspur, which has a large contingent of Jewish supporters, were injured, one of them gravely, when dozens of anti-semitic "ultras" stormed a central Rome bar in a well-planned attack.
Pro Patria has been fined 15 000 euros over the last year for racist chants, Italian press reported.
Manchester City and Belgian national player Vincent Kompany was one of thousands to express their support of Boateng's action on Twitter.
"Act of racism against Boateng during Milan's friendly. How about becoming extremely intolerant towards racist idiots? They need to be told," the defender wrote.
Troubled Manchester City player Mario Balotelli, himself the repeated target of racist chants before he abandoned Italy to go and play in England, praised Boateng's "brilliant work" on Twitter.
The Italian striker, who has endured monkey chants and bananas thrown onto the pitch, last year threatened to walk out of the Euro championships if he heard any racial slurs.
But the Pro Patria chairman, Roberto Centenaro, suggested tackling the the problem would be difficult.
"You certainly cannot change the mentality of people who have come to the stadium for 30 years and have these ideas. Clearly we must start with the young," he said.