Inter Milan will play their next two home matches without fans and a third game with a portion of the stadium closed as punishment for their fans racially abusing a Napoli player, the latest incident of racism to blight football in Italy.
The league judge’s ruling on Thursday came a day after Kalidou Koulibaly was targeted by Inter supporters who directed monkey noises at him throughout the Seria A match at Milan’s San Siro Stadium.
Napoli coach Carlo Ancelotti said he made three appeals for the match to be stopped but his requests were ignored.
Koulibaly, a French-born Senegal defender, was eventually sent off in the game that Napoli lost 1-0.
“I think that the Koulibaly red car was due to a very particular state of mind he was in. He had been insulted during the whole match,” Ancelotti told a post-match press conference.
“We asked the federation to do something about it but they just made some announcements and the match was not suspended like we have demanded.”
Ancelotti also threatened to lead his team off the field the next time one of his players was subjected to continued racist abuse.
Giuseppe Sala, the mayor of Milan, apologised to Koulibaly, calling the abuse a “shameful act against a respected athlete”.
Italian football’s racism problem
Italy, as well as other European countries, has struggled to combat racism and stamp out racist chants during matches.
Last year, Ghanaian player Sulley Muntari was sent off after confronting fans who abused him during a game for Pescara.
Italian striker Mario Balotelli has also been a repeated target. Earlier this year, fans of the national team unfurled a banner saying, “My captain has Italian blood” when it was suggested that Balotelli, who was born to Ghanaian parents in Palermo, may be given the chance to captain Italy.
Koulibaly himself has been racially abused several times, including by Lazio fans two years ago. Napoli supporters showed their solidarity with the defender by wearing masks depicting him at his next home game.
In 2013, the AC Milan team left the pitch during a friendly match in the town of Busto Arsizio after home fans insulted Ghanaian midfielder, Kevin-Prince Boateng.
Pavel Klymenko, of the anti-discrimination body Football Against Racism in Europe, says the latest racist against Koulibaly is a big test for those in charge of the Italian game.
“They have to take the issue seriously. This is a test for the new leadership of the Italian FA (football federation). They have to get this right,” he told Al Jazeera.
“When we look at the politics in Italy right now, this scaremongering of refugees and migrants; the rise of the far-right parties in Italy and across Europe; Interior Minister Matteo Salvini introducing regulations against migrants and ethnic minorities in the country – this has an impact on the stadiums,” added Klymenko.
“With this type of political background, we will see more of these incidents in the coming year.”
Salvini’s far-right, anti-migration League party secured 17 percent of the vote at the country’s general election in March, and a few months later went on to form a coalition government with the populist Five Star Movement.
Since then, Salvini, who is also a co-deputy prime minister, has closed Italian ports to refugee and migrant rescue boats, urged officials to apply tougher rules on asylum requests and called for a census in order to deport Roma without citizenship.
He has come under fire from activists, human rights groups and political opponents who accuse him of creating a climate of hate in Italy following a spate of racist attacks that have coincided with his anti-immigration drive.
Salvini has dismissed concerns over racist attacks in Italy, saying migrants were to blame for a third of all crimes in the country. “This is the only true drama,” he said this summer.