Italy pledges action on football racists
Italian interior minister Annamaria Cancellieri on Monday called for "more incisive" action to be taken to end the abuse of non-white players by racist fans.
Cancellieri was speaking after AC Milan's Kevin-Prince Boateng last week responded to racist chants by a small group of fans during a friendly against fourth division side Pro Patria by storming off the pitch.
He was followed by his teammates, prompting a global outpouring of applause for the German-born Ghanaian international's stance against racist supporters.
Police have identified six Pro Patria supporters suspected of racist chanting and later Monday they were facing a five-year stadium ban.
One of the six suspects was identified by police thanks to television pictures as the Councillor for Sports and Youth Policy of the City of Corbetta near Milan, Riccardo Grittini.
All six were card-carrying fans of Pro Patria, one of whom worked in one of the club's bars.
According to ANSA news agency, all six have admitted being part of the crowd which verbally abused Milan's players but claim not to have uniquely targeted Milan's non-white players.
Sepp Blatter, the president of world football's governing body Fifa, hit out at Boateng's decision to force the suspension of last week's friendly, setting him at odds with AC Milan owner-president, Italy's former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.
Both Fifa and Uefa have previously warned against players walking off the pitch in protest, and Blatter said: "Walk off? No. I don't think that is the solution."
Cancellieri said Boateng's stance was a "nice gesture" but told Radio 24 Monday that a "more comprehensive strategy" needed to be put in place to avoid games being decided by "a minority of racists".
"This episode drew attention to a phenomenon which is unfortunately widespread and, as such, we have to be more serious about dealing with it," Cancellieri said.
At Rome's Olympic Stadium on Saturday some sections of Lazio's crowd were heard making monkey noises at Cagliari's Colombian striker Victor Ibarbo. The majority of the home crowd jeered and whistled to drown out the racists.
The regulations regarding the suspension of matches in such circumstances remain unclear and is a potential minefield for the football authorities, who would either have to replay matches or award victory to the team being victimised.
Cancellieri suggested that if "only a small group of fans" were involved in racist chanting games "should not be suspended".
"Fans involved in racist chanting should be hit very hard and must be removed from the stadium," she said. "If, however, the phenomenon is more widespread the game must be suspended by whoever is responsible for keeping public order."
There have been suggestions that police officials, who already attend football games in Italy's Serie A, could play a bigger role in deciding whether football games are suspended or not due to racist chanting.
Cancellieri said a meeting would be held between Italy's chief of police and the president of Serie A later this week to discuss ways to eliminate abusive fans from matches without necessarily forcing stoppages.
Berlusconi, meanwhile, said he disagreed with Blatter's appraisal of Boateng's gesture after vowing last week that his players would do the same again in a similar situation and calling the scenes at Pro Patria "disgraceful".
"I am of the opposite opinion. I congratulated the players for their courage in standing up to this abhorrent incident," he told Tgcom24, which is part of his Mediaset group.
"Football reflects society and should be something positive, teams should shown an example to the rest of society. What happened in the stadium should not be dismissed, it has done a lot of damage including to the reputation of Italy."