Giovedì, 18 Ottobre 2018

Soccer: Racism rears head before season start


(By Denis Greenan).
Rome, August 19 - Racism has reared its head in
Italian soccer even before the start of the Serie A season this
weekend - and despite vows to stamp it out after a string of
high-profile incidents last year.
Sections of the Lazio following directed monkey chants at
Juventus's black players during the Roman team's 4-0 loss to the
Serie A champions in the Italian Super Cup at the Olympic
Stadium Sunday night.
Following last year's headline-grabbing cases including a
walk-off by AC Milan in a friendly against a lower-tier team,
some observers thought punishment might be harsher than new
regulations mandate.
Instead, Lazio was only ordered to close the section of its
home ground to its hard-core 'ultra' fans - who have one of
Italian soccer's darkest reputations for racism - for just one
match, their Serie A debut against Udinese Sunday.
Although it was the mandatory penalty available to the
Italian Soccer Federation's disciplinary judge, some thought the
authorities could have come down harder on Lazio, especially
given the showcase nature of Italian soccer's seasonal
Paul Pogba, the Juve midfielder who was the first target of
abuse after he opened the scoring, indicated that more might
have been done.
Hinting that he expected stiffer action to be taken, Pogba
voiced his surprise and indignation that the Lazio fans didn't
think twice about racially abusing him and his teammates even
though there were blacks playing for Lazio.
"They're ignorant," Pogba told Agence-France Presse.
"I was alone against 30,000. Those people behave like that
even though they have black players in their team.
"It's a complete lack of respect towards players wearing
the shirt they're rooting for, too.
"It's an unpleasant situation but I keep playing and stay
focused on my job," Pogba said.
Juve's Angelo Ogbonna, an Italy defender of Nigerian
descent, and Ghana midfielder Kwadwo Asamoah were the other Juve
players targeted.
Lazio's team included Angolan-born Belgian Under-21
international Luis Pedro Cavanda and Nigeria's Ogenyi Eddy
The stand closure contrasted sharply with action in an
Italian criminal court five months after the Milan walk-off
against fourth-tier Pro Patria in January.
In June, judges handed down prison sentences of 40 days to
two months for six Pro Patria fans.
The court in the northern town of Busto Arsizio, where the
incident took place, found the fans guilty of insulting chants
"aggravated by racist motives".
The prosecutor had wanted even longer terms, asking for
five of the fans to be given six months in jail and one four
months because he helped authorities.
The incident hit international headlines as Milan's
Ghanaian midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng led his side in walking
off the field in protest and the match was abandoned.
The Ghanaian was widely praised for standing up to the
bigots and was subsequently invited to speak at a forum
organized in Geneva by United Nations High Commissioner for
Human Rights Navi Pillay.
Any hopes that the incident would turn out to be a
watershed for Italian football, which has been engaged in a long
battle against racism in the stands, were quickly dashed.
In May a Serie A match between AC Milan and AS Roma was
briefly suspended after some Roma fans directed racist
chants at Boateng and Milan's Italy forward Mario Balotelli.
There were a number of other incidents of racism at the end
of last season.
After fining clubs for racism by fans proved ineffective,
in June the Italian Soccer Federation (FIGC) approved stiffer
penalties for racism following new rules from European
football's governing body UEFA.
Clubs whose fans are guilty of racist abuse will now have
sections of their home ground closed for a subsequent game - the
penalty applied in Lazio's case.
If the abuse is repeated, the club will have to play a home
game behind closed doors.
If it still continues the authorities will be able to give
more stadium bans, award victory in a game to the opposition,
deduct points in the league standings and even exclude a team
from the championship.
Balotelli has frequently been a victim of racism abuse and
has threatened to walk off the field the next time it happens,
although UEFA President Michel Platini and the head of Italy's
referees have said it is not up to the individual player to
decide when to take action.
Racism has been a problem in Italian soccer at least since
the 1980s, when Milan's Dutch star Ruud Gullit spoke out against
Former Messina defender Marco Zoro of the Ivory Coast
threatened to halt a Serie A game in November 2005 after
suffering racial abuse from visiting Inter supporters.
A decade earlier, Dutchman Aron Winter, a native of
Suriname, was subject to attacks at Lazio involving cries of
"Niggers and Jews Out".
Anti-Semitism has also been a recurring problem in the top
In 1989 Israel striker Ronnie Rosenthal was unable to play
even one game for Udinese because of massive pressure from
neo-Fascist circles.
Supporters of Lazio, who include a neo-Fascist hard core,
and AS Roma were linked to a brutal assault on Tottenham
supporters, a London club with a Jewish heritage, in a Rome pub
in November.
There was also a much-publicised case at the end of last
season, also involving Milan, which turned out not to have been
racist in nature.
Guinean Kevin Constant walked off in rage after kicking the
ball into the stands during a 45-minute match against promoted
A substitute took Constant's place and an announcement was
made warning play would be stopped if the abuse continued.
But the police report said individual fans directed
"sporadic offensive phases" at the player, including a call for
him to have plastic surgery on his nose, but there was no
evidence these were on a racist nature.
It said Constant was booed by the crowd, but so were
several other white Milan players.
After the match Milan said it would not accept racist abuse
against its players, but also said Constant should not have left
the field.

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