Racism is a serious problem in international soccer. For proof, see this list of incidents from Euro 2012 last summer. Italian striker Mario Balotelli hears racist chants from fans all the time (and, this story notes, sometimes from players too). And this problem reared its head during a recent friendly match between Italian club AC Milan and Pro Patria, a lower-level Italian club: a group of fans in attendance hurled incessant racist taunts at Milan’s black players. And then, something unusual happened: AC Milan midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng and his teammates decided enough was enough:
And… a not-insignificant number of fans seemed to agree. And that’s to say nothing of the officials, who decided the time had come to stop the game, and the players from both sides who walked off. While it’s true that, as many have pointed out, a walkout like this is easier to do at a friendly match like this one than at a game that would count in the standings, but this was significant action nonetheless:
Massimino Allegri, the coach of AC Milan, said afterward that his team would walk out again if one of their players were racially abused, regardless of either the competition or the situation. The powerful Allegri also put out a call for other teams to stage walk outs if their players were similarly abused.
The Nation’s Dave Zirin added that Balotelli was forbidden from walking off at Euro 2012 if a similar situation presented itself, so league match or not, Boateng’s actions represent a new level of player resistance to fan racism.
And honestly, actions like these are probably needed to make any real change. Telling the ref that fans are hurling racist taunts at you is passive. Boateng took matters into his own hands, and got a hell of a lot more attention for it than he ever would have if the refs had called off the match on their own (if they’d have even called it off at all). This got noticed. One walkout’s not going to reverse something that’s unfortunately institutionalized among many fans, but it’s undeniably moving the needle. That’s a good start – and judging by the applause Boateng received, a lot of fans think it’s about time.