Football

Italy's complex racism problem

Updated 6:40 AM ET, Mon June 10, 2013
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AC Milan's Mario Balotelli reacts to racist abuse from the visiting Roma fans at the San Siro in May. It was not the first time the Italian-born striker has been racially abused in Serie A. Claudio Villa/Getty Images
Serie A side Lazio has already been punished four times in the 2012-13 season due to racist offenses by its fans in European matches. Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images
"I don't care what game it is -- a friendly, Italian league or Champions League match -- I would walk off again," the Germany-born Kevin-Prince Boateng, who has represented Ghana, told CNN in an exclusive interview in January after he walked off in protest at racist abuse he was subjected to in a friendly match. Claudio Villa/Getty Images/file
"I'm sad and angry that I'm the one that has to take action," added the AC Milan midfielder. "All the people who support me would support me in a big game. Players like Rio Ferdinand and Patrick Vieira have supported me and I just want to say thank you." Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images/file
At the end of January, Boateng had a new teammate after AC Milan owner Silvio Berlusconi sanctioned a $30 million deal to sign striker Mario Balotelli from Manchester City. Berlusconi had previously branded Balotelli a "rotten apple." Claudio Villa/Getty Images
La Stampa newspaper estimated that the signing of "Super Mario" could have been worth 400,000 votes in Berlusconi's bid for re-election in Italy back in February. Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images
Before moving to England, the Italy-born Balotelli played for AC Milan's rivals Inter Milan, and during one Serie A match against Juventus the Turin club's fans once shouted: "There are no black Italians." Giuseppe Cacace/AFP/Getty Images/file
Soon after Balotelli returned to Italy, Inter Milan were fined $20,000 after racist chants from their fans about the AC Milan's striker at a match against Chievo. Inter play AC in the Milan derby on February 24. Alberto Lingria/AFP/Getty Images
"Berlusconi is an opportunist, who will say anything to win short-term support," Italian historian John Foot -- the author of the authoritative book on Italian football "Calcio" -- told CNN, in reference to the AC Milan owner's support for Boateng after the player walked off the pitch. "His comments are hypocritical at best, especially given his alliance with anti-immigrant and far-right parties, and his comments on Barack Obama (he called him 'sun-tanned')," added Foot. Berlusconi is pictured in the center, wearing a scarf.
Soon after Balotelli returned to Serie A, Berlusconi's brother Paolo -- during a political rally -- invited the public to an upcoming AC Milan match and was caught on camera -- the video was featured on the website of Italian newspaper La Repubblica -- saying: "OK, we are all off to see the family's little black boy." Paolo is pictured here, wearing glasses. Claudio Villa/Getty Images
"I don't think you can run away, because then the team should have to forfeit the match," FIFA president Sepp Blatter told Abu Dhabi's The National newspaper. "This issue is a very touchy subject, but I repeat there is zero tolerance of racism in the stadium, we have to go against that. The only solution is to be very harsh with the sanctions (against racism) -- and the sanctions must be a deduction of points or something similar." Getty Images
Two days after Boateng's walkoff, some sections of Lazio's crowd at Rome's Olympic Stadium were heard making monkey noises at Cagliari's Colombian striker Victor Ibarbo. However, the majority of the home crowd jeered and whistled to drown out the racists. Paolo Bruno/Getty Images
In 2010, Cameroon striker Samuel Eto'o suffered racist abuse from Cagliari fans when playing for Inter Milan in a Serie A game. The Sardinian club was subsequently heavily fined. AFP/Getty Images
In 2005 the Italian authorities banned Paolo di Canio -- then playing for Lazio -- and fined him almost $11,000 for his use of a straight-arm salute. "The sports court decided that it was an act of racism," the head of Italy's Observatory on Racism and Anti-racism in Football, Mauro Valeri, told CNN. "The ordinary court, however, did not intervene. For me it's racism, for the Ministry of the Interior, no." Di Canio is now manager of English club Swindon Town. Paolo Cocco/AFP/Getty Images/file
While English football embarked on a program of stadium reconstruction after the 1980s disasters at Bradford, Heysel (pictured) and Hillsborough, Italian football has been arguably hampered by a lack of stadium redevelopment. AFP/Getty Images
Of Serie A's big clubs, only Juventus has built a new stadium in recent years. Giuseppe Cacace/AFP/Getty Images/file
The Italian Ministry of the Interior has introduced an identity document -- "tessera del tifoso" -- for supporters to counteract hooliganism. In order to buy match tickets, fans must present their document, with the system designed to ensure away fans can't buy "home" tickets for games.
Owen Neilson is writing a book about Italian football grounds, "Stadio: The Life and Death of Italian Football." "If a stadia revolution is undertaken in Italy -- as it has happened in England -- a layer of culture unique to Italy will be tarmacked over, with 'Juventus Stadium' type replacements," said Neilson. "Football will be changed again in favor of profit and central figures in a club's history, such as Giuseppe Meazza (who played for both AC Milan and Inter) or Romeo Menti (Vincenza), will be moved from the spotlight . That will be a real loss." Mike Hewitt/Getty Images/file
"The Football Italian Federation, FIFA and UEFA must empower fan-based initiatives that are capable of creating a culture of self-regulation," Professor Clifford Stott, who has advised governments and police forces internationally on crowd management policy and practice, told CNN. Clive Rose/Getty Images/file