Serie A has defended its controversial decision to use images of apes at the centre of an anti-racism initiative.
The Italian top flight has been beset by incidents of racism at football matches this season, with the Inter Milan stiker Romelu Lukaku among several black players to have been on the receiving end of abuse, including monkey chants.
The league sparked bafflement and outrage as it unveiled a new ‘No to racism’ campaign which centred around apes framed with different colours, created by artist Simone Fugazzotto.
In response to criticism on social media, Serie A general manager Luigi De Siervo said: “Simone’s paintings fully reflect the values of fair play and tolerance, so will remain in our headquarters.
“The league is taking a strong stand against any form of prejudice. We realise racism is an endemic problems and very complex, so we are facing it on three fronts – cultural, via works of art such as Simone’s paintings, sporting through a series of initiatives and players and clubs, and also repressive, thanks to the collaboration with the police.
“By acting on these three levels, we are sure that we can win the most important match against this plague that is ruining world’s most beautiful sport.”
The artist, Fugazzotto, said: “I only paint monkeys as a metaphor for human beings. We turn the concept back on the racists, as we are all monkeys originally. So I painted a Western monkey, an Asian monkey and a black monkey.”
Meanwhile, Italian league officials are developing a system of facial recognition technology to identify fans responsible for racist chants, De Siervo revealed.
“We’re working on facial recognition software to use inside the stadiums. We’re still awaiting authorization from privacy authorities but we should be able to get that with the help of the government. Once those images are available, clubs will have to intervene directly.”
Racist chants have been aimed at Lukaku, Franck Kessie, Dalbert Henrique, Miralem Pjanic, Ronaldo Vieira, Kalidou Koulibaly and Mario Balotelli. All of the players targeted — except for Pjanic, who is Bosnian — are black.
The league also nominated one player from each of the 20 clubs to join an anti-racism team.
“We’re going to do in two years what (former British prime minister Margaret) Thatcher did in 10,” De Siervo said, referring to the battle against hooliganism in English stadiums in the 1980s.
This season, the Italian soccer federation said it was considering employing advanced listening devices used in anti-terrorism operations to identify offending fans.
Additional reporting by Reuters