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Italian referee leads the way in battling racist chants

October 18, 2010

SOCCER-ITALY/Italian soccer has long struggled with racist chanting, a horror which has largely been stamped out in countries like England and Germany.

The problem persists in Italy but finally the tide is turning and ignorant fans are being beaten.

First Mario Balotelli was racially abused by Juventus fans while playing for Inter Milan two seasons ago. Italian soccer authorities had been handing out small fines for years but this time Juve were hit with a one-game stadium ban.  

A fallout from that incident was the decision to allow referees to suspend games if racist chanting is heard.

The odd racist song has continued in Italian stadiums over the past year and nothing was done. Until Sunday.

Only three minutes had been played in Cagliari’s game with Inter Milan when referee Paolo Tagliavento surprised everyone by stopping the match. A public announcement told Cagliari fans the game would be abandoned if the “monkey noises” aimed at Samuel Eto’o carried on.

The game resumed and no more chants were heard.

The referee has been hailed by everyone in the Italian game for showing “personality” and the hope is that other officials will now have the confidence to follow suit.

Eto’o, who hardly ever gives interviews, seemed to be pleased by the action as he went on to score another great goal and seal a 1-0 win for Inter. His bizarre dancing goal celebration was hard to interpret but the smile on his face said it all.

It was a long way from 2006 when Eto’o tried to storm off the field when he suffered racist abuse from fans in a Barcelona match with Zaragoza. He was eventually persuaded to play on.

Spain still has a racism problem and Italy seems to be doing more to tackle it, but the fact the incident only made the inside pages of the sport papers speaks volumes. In England and other countries it would have been front page news.

There is work still to do but Tagliavento deserves his praise.

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