The head of football’s world governing body FIFA, Sepp Blatter, on Monday denounced racist chanting that held up a weekend game between AC Milan and Roma.
“Appalled to read about racist abuse in Serie A last night, but we’re committed to action, not just words,” Blatter wrote on his Twitter account @SeppBlatter.
Play was held up for three minutes early in the second half of the game at the San Siro in Milan as Roma fans were warned to stop making racist chants.
The target of the abuse was believed to be Milan striker Mario Balotelli.
“Unfortunately the mentality is still retrogressive,” Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri said of the chanting.
FIFA earlier this year created an anti-racism taskforce chaired by Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) head Jeffrey Webb to deal with the issue and ramp up punishments of those indulging in racist behaviour.
The task force is due to submit proposals, including deploying an official at stadiums to facilitate identifying racist acts, to the FIFA Congress meeting in Mauritius at the end of this month.
Racism in the Italian game has hit the headlines repeatedly and in January Milan’s Kevin-Prince Boateng, a German-born Ghanaian, walked off after being targeted with racist abuse in a friendly against Pro Patria.
Milan teammates followed Boateng’s example and was a pivotal moment following a spate of incidents which prompted the Italian Football Federation to pledge to take a firmer stance on racism.
Another incident, at a recent Inter-Milan derby, saw Balotelli — born in Palermo to Ghanaian parents who gave him up for adoption, and who now is an Italy international — subjected to monkey noises and inflatable bananas.
Inter, Balotelli’s former club, were fined 50,000 euros by Italian league authorities.
Then Inter fans made monkey chants at Tottenham’s Togo striker Emmanuel Adebayor during a recent Europa League clash.
They are now facing sanctions by UEFA, European football’s governing body which earlier this season fined Lazio after its fans racially abused fans of Tottenham, which has close ties to the Jewish community, and brandished “Free Palestine” banners at a Europa League tie in Rome.
Juventus director general Beppe Marotta recently announced an anti-racism drive, saying that football “requires a change of culture and education.”
Boateng recently met with Blatter on the issue and gave an anti-racism speech at the UN (United Nations) in Geneva, insisting on the need to “drain the swamp” of racism.
“Racism doesn’t go away. If we don’t confront it, it will spread,” Boateng told delegates.
Blatter responded that the time had come for “serious sanctions” to be wielded against offenders, amid the possibility that host clubs could even be docked points as an ultimate punishment.