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Soccer: Berlusconi vows Milan to stand up to racism

Serie A giants walked off after abuse in friendly

04 January, 17:49
Soccer: Berlusconi vows Milan to stand up to racism (ANSA) - Milan, January 4 - Owner Silvio Berlusconi said Friday that AC Milan would abandon any matches, including Champions League games, tainted by racist abuse like that which caused his players to walk off a friendly against fourth-tier Italian side Pro Patria on Thursday. Milan players left the field after home fans directed racist jeers at black players Kevin Prince Boateng, 'Baye Niang, Urby Emanuelson and Sulley Muntari during Thursday's match at Busto Arsizio, north of Milan.

"I guarantee that Milan will leave the field in all matches in which episodes like this take place, including international ones," said former Italian premier Berlusconi. The 76-year-old media magnate added that he had called to congratulate Boateng, who led the walk-off, "for his reaction to a deplorable episode of racism".

A 20-year-old man was cited to prosecutors on Friday for allegedly taking part in the racist chants.

The man, who is unemployed and has no criminal record, is being probed for allegedly breaking a special Italian law against inciting racial hatred.

He is said to have admitted to being part of a group of fans who directed abuse at the players. Judicial sources said he is the only member of the group of Pro Patria fans involved to have been put under investigation so far. Boateng said he was grateful for the solidarity he received.

The Ghanaian midfielder picked up the ball and kicked it towards the supporters who were jeering and then took off his shirt and walked off the pitch.

Milan captain Massimo Ambrosini then led the rest of the team off and the game was abandoned. The club, the Italian Soccer Federation and the Italian professional footballers' association all backed the players for standing up to racism, in addition to condemning the Pro Patria fans' behaviour. Boateng also received solidarity via Twitter from fans and former and current soccer stars such as Marco Materazzi, Patrick Vieira and Shaun Wright-Phillips.

"Thank u all for the support and understanding...means a lot!!!" Boateng said on his Twitter account on Friday. Italian football has been battling racism in the stands for a number of years after several shameful high-profile incidents.

FIGC prosecutors are looking into the Pro Patria case.

Busto Arsizio Mayor Gigi Farioli on Friday apologised to Boateng and said he was misquoted after complaining about the midfielder hitting the ball into the stands rather than criticising the fans' racism.

He added that Boateng would be a "sort of honorary citizen of Busto Arsizio" from now on, although he still insisted the player should not have kicked the ball into the crowd.

Pro Patria Chairman Pietro Vavassori said black people would be invited to attend the team's next home game in the VIP section, in a gesture to show the club is not racist.

The head of the Italian Referees' Association (AIA), meanwhile, defended match officials after they came under fire for not stopping the match earlier. AIA chief Marcello Nicchi said referees cannot abandon a game under current regulations as this power lies with interior ministry officials.