Blamed by his own teammate for the racist abuse aimed at him during an Italian football match, Juventus forward Moise Kean received plenty of support from rival players on Wednesday.
Kean, a 19-year-old Italian whose parents are from Ivory Coast, plays for Italy‘s national team and Juventus, the most popular football club in the country. He is also black.
When Kean scored a goal against Cagliari on Tuesday, he was subjected to a torrent of racist abuse from the other team’s fans. One of his own teammates, Leonardo Bonucci, later said Kean was as much to blame as the fans hurling the abuse.
“There were racist boos after Kean’s celebration … but I think the blame is 50-50,” said Bonucci, who is also teammates with the teenager on Italy’s national team. “Kean made a mistake and the fans made a mistake.”
Manchester City winger Raheem Sterling, who is also black and has been outspoken in calling out racism, came to Kean’s defence on Wednesday.
“The blame is 50-50, Leonardo Bonucci … All you can do now is laugh,” Sterling wrote on an Instagram story along with a slew of laughing face and applause emojis.
Former Manchester City midfielder Yaya Toure, a four-time African player of the year from Ivory Coast, said Bonucci should apologise to Keane for his “totally disrespectful” claim that the teenager is partly to blame for being racially abused by Cagliari fans.
Toure also said players should walk off the field if they are subject to racist abuse.
“Yeah, let’s do this,” Toure said at a UEFA conference on diversity in football. “When something like that happens we have to send a strong message.”
Kean also got backing from Mario Balotelli – another black Italian born to African parents and who plays for the country’s national team.
“And tell Bonucci that his luck is that I wasn’t there,” Balotelli wrote in a comment on Instagram. “Instead of defending you, he does this? I’m shocked I swear. I love you brother!”
Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba, a Frenchman who used to play for Juventus, posted a picture on Instagram of Kean’s celebration and called for Italians to combat racism.
“I support every fight against racism, we’re all equal,” Pogba wrote in English, followed by more in Italian. “Good Italians wake up, you can’t let a small group of racists talk for you.”
Netherlands and Lyon Memphis Depay directly addressed Bonucci on Twitter, posting: “I am disappointed in your reaction … We will not be quiet!”
On Tuesday in Cagliari, Kean was insulted throughout much of the Italian league match by the home fans. He received a yellow card for faking an injury in the first half.
But he then scored his team’s second goal late in the 2-0 victory. After the ball went in the net, he stood in front of the home fans with his arms outstretched. That sparked even more furious and openly racist abuse, as the home fans made monkey noises.
Cagliari captain Luca Ceppitelli tried to protect Kean, rushing to his side and pleading with the fans to stop. Instead, Ceppitelli appeared to almost be hit on the head by a bottle thrown from the stands.
An announcement was made over the stadium’s speaker system, instructing the fans to stop or the match would be suspended.
Al Jazeera sports correspondent Lee Wellings said the lack of support from Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri, who said Kean should not have celebrated in that manner, was telling.
“The way this unfolded puts a spotlight on Italian football, [Kean’s] manager and teammates,” Wellings said, speaking from London.
“It is difficult for players and indeed, officials, if there isn’t absolute condemnation for what it clearly unfolding in the stadium.”
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin said referees would be told to be “brave” and stop matches where there was racial abuse from fans.
“The moment a match is stopped, or it’s not played, I think that 90 percent of normal people in the stadium would kick the asses of those idiots,” said Ceferin, speaking on Tuesday.
The incident involving Kean is just the latest example of racist abuse in football this season. Last week, several England players were targeted with monkey chants during the team’s 5-1 victory in Montenegro.
On Wednesday, as criticism mounted, Bonucci posted a photo on an Instagram story of him and Kean embracing with a conciliatory message.
“Regardless of everything, in any case… NO TO RACISM,” Bonucci wrote.
Another teammate from both Juventus and Italy’s national team, Giorgio Chiellini, defended Kean in a story posted on the club’s website, calling him “a positive figure of Italian football”.
“The only thing he did wrong today was the simulation (faking injury), that he surely won’t repeat, but he’s here to learn,” Chiellini said. “He’s a very positive figure and he certainly didn’t deserve the insults he received.”
Kean, who scored in both of Italy’s qualifying matches for the 2020 European Championship, hasn’t spoken publicly about the incident, but he did post a photo of his goal celebration on Instagram with a message.
“The best way to respond to racism,” Kean wrote, “#notoracism.”