Soccer: Italy's 'regional racism' rules under fire
Milan face stadium ban after fans abused Neapolitans09 October, 16:39
Milan had a section of their home ground closed for a recent game after their fans taunted Napoli supporters for their southern Italian origins in a defeat at the San Siro stadium last month.
The insults were repeated by Milan fans at last weekend's 3-2 defeat to Juventus, prompting Serie A's sporting judge to order the team's next home game, against Udinese on October 19, to be played behind closed doors.
Milan risk being docked three points in Serie A if their fans re-offend. Club executives have said the punishments mean teams can be held hostage by small groups of fans.
Milan chief executive Adriano Galliani said Wednesday that the seven-time European champions would appeal to "all the forums possible against the stadium closure". Inter Milan fans, meanwhile, showed solidarity with Milan Tuesday by calling on supporters across the country to sing "discriminatory chants" during the next set of Serie A fixtures to see if the authorities take action against everyone.
Even some Napoli supporters backed Milan's hard-core 'ultra' fans, with one group showing a banner that read "Napoli Cholera. Now close our stand" during their team's 4-0 win over Livorno at the weekend.
A group of Genoa fans put out a statement Wednesday saying that the ban on regional discrimination means they cannot even indulge in a little leg-pulling.
Italy and Juventus captain Gianluigi Buffon said the issue had taken Italian football into a "minefield".
"It's a fine line between local rivalries, making fun, offending and discrimination and, as in any minefield, there is the risk of an explosion," Buffon told reporters at the Azzurri's training camp ahead of their upcoming matches against Denmark and Armenia. Graziano Delrio, the minister for regional affairs and sport, even commented on the issue during a question-time session in parliament on Wednesday. Delrio said there was a need to "distinguish between fans' chants that are offensive or racist and those that are humourous to avoid excessive punishment". The FIGC adopted the new rules after fining clubs for racism by fans proved ineffective.
Italian soccer has been battling the problem for many years and last season was marred by several high-profile incidents of racism.
Ironically, Milan players were victims in many cases, especially Italy forward Mario Balotelli, who has Ghanaian roots. In January a walk-off by AC Milan in a friendly against a lower-tier team hit headlines worldwide.