Milan-Roma match is suspended in second half due to racist abuse by visiting fans
Milan's striker Mario Balotelli was targeted during Sunday's match at the San Siro
Home team's coach says that matches should be called off in such circumstances
Both sides have a player sent off, with Milan's Sulley Muntari manhandling the referee
A leading Italian soccer coach has called for stronger action against racism after a top-level match between AC Milan and Roma was suspended Sunday due to abusive chants by supporters.
Milan striker Mario Balotelli was targeted by visiting fans throughout the match, and referee Gianluca Rocchi called the game to a halt in the second half to warn the crowd via the public address system.
After several minutes’ delay, the match continued and ended in a 0-0 draw.
Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri later said the official’s decision was not strong enough.
“In my opinion, there’s only one solution to racism in stadium and that’s suspend the match,” Allegri said on Milan’s website.
“To get rid of this stuff in our stadiums, you have to make big decisions. It could penalize some people but in the long run it would help us to grow as a nation and become more civilized.”
He told reporters at the post-match conference: “There’s no point in interrupting the game. It’s a middle ground decision and it serves no purpose. Either the game should be suspended or you keep playing.
“Mario gave all he had this evening, but he’s 22 years old and always subject to these racist boos and that’s not good. People go to the stadium to watch the two teams but there’s always these uncivilized people.”
Roma was fined €50,000 ($65,000) by the Italian league on Monday, its fans having been accused of abusing three Milan players – though none were named in the Lega Calcio’s notification of the punishment.
The club issued a statement saying it “condemns any form of racial abuse.”
“This type of behavior from any football supporters, including ours, is completely unacceptable,” it said. “We are committed to facing this issue head-on to rid our sport of this problem and promote respect for all.”
The Italian football authorities are battling to eradicate racism at matches, with several clubs having been fined for offenses. New rules have been implemented which allow referees to stop matches if racist abuse continues after an official warning.
Milan’s Kevin-Prince Boateng walked off the pitch due to racist abuse during a friendly match against a lower league team in January, being followed by his teammates. He has since joined the anti-racism task force set up by world soccer’s governing body FIFA.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter said he was “appalled” by the abuse at the Milan-Roma game.
“Tackling this issue is complex, but we’re committed to action, not just words,” Blatter said on Twitter.
Balotelli, who has Ghanaian immigrant parents, has been targeted by racists since returning to his native Italy from English club Manchester City during the January transfer window.
The Italy international striker was also involved in another controversial incident during the Roma match, which ended up with teammate Sulley Muntari being sent off after manhandling the referee.
Muntari took offense when Rocchi booked Balotelli in the first half, and was ordered off after trying to prevent the referee from issuing another yellow card when the midfielder protested the decision.
The veteran Ghana international clasped the official’s arms and kept them pinned to his side, but was eventually sent from the pitch after Boateng intervened to calm him down.
“Sulley made a mistake but it’s in the past now,” Allegri told reporters. “He’s mortified and it was a blow playing the game with 10 men, but he shouldn’t be crucified.”
The draw mean third-placed Milan ended the weekend two points ahead of Fiorentina in the race to win a place in the qualifying rounds of the European Champions League next season, with one match still to play.
Fiorentina stayed in contention by beating Palermo 1-0 with a first-half goal from veteran striker Luca Toni that relegated the visiting team.
To miss out on the Champions League, Milan will have to lose next weekend’s final match at relegated Siena, while Fiorentina must beat bottom club Pescara – or win by more than four goals if the Rossoneri draw.
Earlier Sunday, Edinson Cavani took his Serie A-leading goal tally to 28 as second-placed Napoli came from behind to beat Siena 2-1 thanks to Marek Hamsik’s injury-time winner.
Hamsik had earlier set up Cavani’s leveling header with 17 minutes to play.
Udinese stayed fifth with a 2-1 win over Atalanta as Antonio Di Natale scored both goals to take his total this season to 22, keeping the striker second behind Cavani.