European football’s battle with racism returned on Thursday when AC Milan’s players walked off the pitch during a friendly in protest at abuse from the stands aimed at black players.
The match, at the home ground of Pro Patria in Busto Arsizio, who play in the fourth tier of Italian football, was midway through the first half when Milan midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng picked up the ball and kicked it towards a section of fans.
The incident, posted on YouTube, showed the player walking off the pitch and tearing off his shirt, followed by his teammates, the Pro Patria players and match officials. The match was abandoned.
On the AC Milan website, the Serie A club’s captain Massimo Ambrosini said: “It is disappointing for everybody who was at the stadium, but it was necessary to give a strong signal.
“Milan will attempt to return to Busto Arsizio, especially for the children and those who had nothing to do with racism. However, it was important to send out a clear signal.”
The Rossoneri said other players, including M’Baye Niang and Sulley Muntari, were also subjected to racist insults.
Head coach Massimiliano Allegri said he hoped the incident would set an example to others and would have repercussions. “These racist episodes have to end,” he said. “Walking off was the correct decision to make after the racist chants.”
Uefa, Europe’s governing body, has struggled to deal with a growing number of prominent incidents in club and international football. It has been criticised for handing down relatively light sanctions for racist behaviour of fans, compared with far tougher fines for transgressions against clubs for taking to the field of play late or players for unauthorised advertising.
Uefa is appealing against the level of fines issued by its own disciplinary body against the Serbian FA following racist abuse against England players in a U21 match.
Boateng’s actions drew messages of support on Twitter from fellow professionals. Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand, a frequent critic of Uefa over racism, said “ … fair play to him … well done”.
Vincent Kompany, the Manchester City and Belgium defender, tweeted: “I can only salute Milan’s decision to leave the pitch. Also noted that the majority of the fans were completely supportive of the players.”
Boateng himself tweeted after the abandonment: “Shame that these things still happen … ”
Racist behaviour from fans has in the past prompted some individual players to walk off the pitch but it is unheard of for teams to abandon the game.
Piara Powar of FARE, which campaigns against discrimination in European football, said: “Italy, as much as any country in Europe, has a serious problem of racism to deal with. Football infrastructure is in need of renewal and at serious odds with the changing nature of Italian society.“
In a statement, the Italian Football Federation said there would be an inquiry into the incident, adding: “We need to react with strength and without silence to isolate the few delinquents that transformed a friendly match into a mess that offends all of Italian football.”