Racism likely to top the agenda when Boateng meets Sepp

Updated: 2013-03-23 10:23

(China Daily/Agencies)

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It took a defiant gesture to reignite the debate on one of Italian sport's biggest demons, but the fight to rid soccer of racism in Serie A could be just beginning.

On Friday, Kevin-Prince Boateng, a German-born Ghanaian who plays for Serie A giant AC Milan, will hold talks with FIFA President Sepp Blatter.

Racism likely to top the agenda when Boateng meets Sepp

AC Milan's Ghana international Kevin-Prince Boateng, left, and United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay pose with an AC Milan jersey after a panel discussion on racism and sport on Thursday at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva. [Fabrice Coffrini / AFP]

However, soccer tactics or Ghana's recent showing at the Africa Cup of Nations are likely to give way to discussion of one of the scourges of the modern game.

In a January friendly against Pro Patria, Boateng and two other black teammates suffered racist abuse from a small group of fans of the side from Busto Arsizio outside Milan.

Boateng took offense and walked off the pitch, followed by his entire team.

It was seen as a pivotal moment and following other, unrelated incidents this season the Italian federation (FIGC) has pledged to take a firmer stance on racism.

"As a federation we are totally committed to (tackling) these issues," the FIGC's Director General, Antonello Valentini, told Radio Anch'io Sport midweek.

What that will amount to remains to be seen, but what is certain is that racism in Italy and elsewhere is firmly back in the spotlight.

At a recent Inter-AC derby, AC Milan striker Mario Balotelli - born in Palermo to Ghanaian parents who gave him up for adoption, and who now plays for Italy - was subjected to monkey noises and inflatable bananas.

Inter, Balotelli's former club and one created because its founding members wanted to welcome foreign players as well as Italians, was fined 50,000 euros ($64,600) by Italian league authorities.

Last week, Inter fans subjected Tottenham's Togo striker Emmanuel Adebayor to monkey chants during a recent Europa League clash.

The club is now facing sanctions by UEFA, European soccer'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.

In Italy, some would argue the terraces are theaters of expression for society's ills.

In the 1980s, the rise of the Lega Nord political party -which pitted rich northerners against their poorer, more rustic cousins from the south - drove a bigger wedge into the north-south divide.

To the tune of Italian classic O sole mio, Roma fans used to sing: "I have only one dream, Milan in flames". Milan's fans, referring to the influx of southerners to the northern industrial city, retorted: "Milan in flames? And where will you work?"

Immigration - which began late, in the 1980s and 1990s, compared to Britain and France - changed the landscape.