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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Romelu Lukaku has called on Italian football to take a more hardline stance on racism after a spate of incidents blighted the game this season.
The Inter Milan striker, who signed from Manchester United in August, was racially abused in his second appearance for the club in September, when he was subjected to monkey chants as he was about to take a penalty at Cagliari. Cagliari later escaped punishment from the league.
Meanwhile, Brescia striker Mario Balotelli, Fiorentina’s Dalbert and Sampdoria’s Ronaldo Vieira have also been targeted this season, while the Corriere dello Sport rightfully attracted widespread condemnation earlier this month for its “Black Friday” front page.
Further to that, Serie A’s hugely ill-advised “No to Racism” initiative, which featured three posters of chimpanzees, was almost universally denounced.
And although the problem is not confined to the Italian top flight – the Premier League had two incidents this month – Lukaku wants more action taken to eradicate it from the game.
“As footballers we have the power to try and change stuff,” the Belgian said on Saturday at the Dubai International Sports Conference, when talking about speaking out against racism on social media.
“The team, the players around them, have to make a statement. What happened to me was sad because it was the first time it happened in my career.
“I came from England where everything is strict. They make really hard statements on it, they have cameras in the stadiums, fans helping to try and ban those people in the stadiums. In Italy we should do the same.
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“The dressing room exists, where you have players with a lot of different ethnicities, different religions, but we work all together. So why in the stadiums can we not just enjoy the game instead of talking about a person’s colour, or his heritage or his ethnicity?”
Juventus counterpart Miralem Pjanic, sat alongside Lukaku, added: “Of course we should make a stand. We should not bring racism into the stadiums. I would do anything to protect my teammates, in order for them to feel well.
“If a teammate wants to walk out of the pitch because of racism, I support it. I would do whatever it takes to eliminate racism from the stadiums. It is unacceptable.”
Michael Silvestre, the former Rennes, Inter, Manchester United and Arsenal defender, chaired the panel on Saturday and then spoke to reporters about the issue afterwards.
"Obviously it’s a big topic, and it’s one I’d like to avoid," the Frenchman said. "But it’s back on the first page of the newspapers for the wrong reasons, and there’s been too many incidents in football in 2019.
"There’s Uefa, there’s Fifa, there’s individual initiatives like Paul Pogba’s wrist band. We need to find answers as a collective and to try to improve.
“Because when we say that football is a reflection of society – OK, to some extent – but it is an environment in which we control: we control who’s in the stadium, who’s the fanatics of this team or that team, we control the players, we control the institutions. Given all these elements, we need to find the answers to stop this."
Silvestre, who said he experienced racism personally as a player while playing in France, praised Lukaku for being outspoken about the issue on numerous occasions this season.
"He’s been [subjected to racism] many times, especially lately," Silvestre said. "There were the chants, there was the Black Friday front page and not enough support. I’ve been [affected] myself when I was playing with Lyon.
"Being called a monkey is bringing you to the stage of an animal; you’re not a human being any more. Of course it [impacts] you and that’s why Rom is affected by that and he’s fighting it in the best possible way, with positive messages."
Asked if the problem is worse now than it was when he played, Silvestre replied: "I don’t think we should even compare it. It’s a factor, it’s a problem that we have to fight – it doesn’t matter if it was more before or less now, because there’s more media coverage.
"We all have children and we don’t want them to go to the stadium and be a witness or be involved in this type of environment. Football is fun and there’s no place for racism."
Updated: December 28, 2019 06:58 PM
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