- AC Milan defender Kevin Constant suffers alleged racial abuse during friendly contest
- French-born Guinean player stormed off field in protest
- Italian Football Federation launches investigation into incident
The new football season is still some weeks away, but already in Italy allegations of racial abuse towards AC Milan's Kevin Constant have marred a friendly.
The French-born Guinean player smashed the ball into the stands and walked off the pitch during Tuesday's friendly game against Sassuolo in the northern city of Reggio Emilia after becoming enraged by a section of supporters.
The Italian Football Federation (FIGC) confirmed Wednesday that it was examining the incident.
"The Federal Prosecutor's Office has opened an investigation to ascertain the extent of the racist incident that took place yesterday evening at the Stadio del Tricolore in Reggio Emilia during the Milan-Sassuolo match (Trofeo TIM), which saw AC Milan player Kevin Constant the subject of chants from some supporters in the stands" said the FIGC statement.
In January, Constant's teammate Kevin Prince-Boateng walked off the field of play after being racially abused by a number of fans during a friendly game against Pro Patria with six people hit with two-month prison sentences.
However Milan said that Constant's decision to leave the field was "not a decision he should have taken upon himself to make."
"On the evening of July 23rd 2013 there was another episode involving racist intolerance and this time the victim was Kevin Constant, who reacted by leaving the field of play," read the Milan statement.
"This was not a decision he should have taken upon himself to make and despite his more than understandable reasons and the anger he must have felt, AC Milan would like to remind everyone that the only people responsible for intervening against any manifestations that offend the human dignity, which includes racial discrimination, are the referee in charge of the match and the head of public safety.
"The use of the legal system and institutional rights, which every member of the public requires to exist in a civil society, does not compensate for the fact that these episodes continue to happen at a frequent rate."
Both Constant and Prince-Boateng declined to be interviewed by CNN, while Sassuolo issued the following statement on its website.
"With reference to the incident that occurred during the Trofeo TIM, Sassuolo Calcio await the results of the investigation and fully condemn any racist expression," it read.
"In any case, we also underline the extraordinary fair play of Sassuolo fans in general. Over the years and during the Trofeo TIM last night they supported their team with the utmost sporting values, never transcending into vulgar chants and ensuring visiting fans enjoyed their hospitality."
The incident is the latest in a long line of unsavory episodes of racism which have dogged Italian football in recent times.
Only last May, the FIGC itself came under fire from FIFA president Sepp Blatter after the Italian organization fined Roma $65,000 after its fans were found guilty of racially abusing Milan's Mario Balotelli.
"You will always find money," Blatter told the world governing body's website at the time.
"What is $65,000 for such an incident? I'm not happy and I will call the Italian Federation. That's not a way to deal with such matters."
In April, Inter Milan were fined nearly $60,000 by European governing body UEFA after its fans were found guilty of "improper conduct" in chants directed towards Tottenham Hotspur striker Emmanuel Adebayor.
Two months earlier, Lazio received its fourth charge of racist behavior this season -- with Roma's city rivals having been fined nearly $300,000 after repeated fan transgressions.
In May, FIFA adopted tougher penalties for racist behavior during its congress in Mauritius.
Punishments for first offenses bring a warning, fine or clubs being forced to play games in empty stadiums. A second offense, or one deemed "serious," could result in demotion, a deduction of points or expulsion from a tournament.
FIFA also confirmed that any individual found guilty of racist chanting will be suspended for at least five matches.
According to UEFA guidelines, which are adhered to by all professional clubs in Europe, there is a three-step procedure for abandoning games if they are marred by racist chanting.
First, the referee should halt the contest and ask for announcements to be made over the public address system.
The second step would be to suspend the match for a given period of time and, finally, abandon it.