Berlusconi responds to Blatter
AC Milan president Silvio Berlusconi has responded angrily to FIFA president Sepp Blatter's claim that players should remain on the pitch when faced with racist abuse.
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Rossoneri midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng led his team-mates off the pitch during a friendly match at Pro Patria last week after being subjected to racist chanting from a section of the home fans.
Leading authority figures, campaigners and current professional footballers were quick to lend their support to the former Portsmouth and Tottenham player, who insisted he would walk off again in any competitive match under similar circumstances.
Blatter said there should be "zero tolerance" for racism in the game but did not feel the solution was for players to "run away" from racist abuse.
Berlusconi rejected the FIFA president's position today, telling radio station RTL: "I am of the opposite view.
"In fact, I thanked and congratulated my players for their decision to leave the field during the friendly in Busto Arsizio.
"This is an uncivilised problem that needs to be stopped, people should not allow these things to happen.
"Teams out on the pitch should set an example of civility and the educational role of football should not be underestimated.
"It's not only about the behaviour of players in the game, but of the public, and everyone needs to avoid giving Italy a negative image."
Speaking at a conference in the Middle East, Blatter had told United Arab Emirates newspaper The National, he said: "Walk off? No. I don't think that is the solution.
"But the Italian federation has yet to provide FIFA with the report detailing what exactly has happened.
"I don't think you can run away, because eventually you can run away if you lose a match. This issue is a very touchy subject, but I repeat there is zero tolerance of racism in the stadium; we have to go against that. The only solution is to be very harsh with the sanctions - and the sanctions must be a deduction of points or something similar."
Piara Powar, the executive director of anti-racist campaign group Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE), told The Guardian on Monday: "We disagree entirely with the idea that Kevin-Prince Boateng ran away from the Milan match in which he was subjected to racial abuse. It's a nonsensical suggestion.
"What does Sepp Blatter know about what it is to be abused or excluded because you are an ethnic minority, and what might be the right or wrong way to respond?
"The point is that the hard-won processes put in place to deal with issues of discriminatory abuse, that apply from referees all the way up to international disciplinary commissions, are not being implemented.
"There seem to be so many statements being made off the cuff by football administrators on important issues of policy that are ill-thought out. The message going out is one of indifference by governing bodies at all levels."
A representative of Italian political party Lega Nord is among six people under investigation for allegedly directing racist abuse at Boateng.
Riccardo Grittini, 21, is an elected sport and youth policy official for the Italian town of Corbetta, a town 18 miles to the south of Busto Arsizio where Thursday's match took place.
Grittini is among those accused by police of directing racist abuse at Boateng in the first half of the match.
The Lega Nord, formed in 1991, advocates greater political autonomy for the northern regions of Italy, with Lombardy, Veneto and Piedmont forming the principal strongholds for Umberto Bossi's party.
The mayor of Corbetta, Antonio Balzarotti, admitted he was surprised to hear news of his colleague's alleged involvement but said he would sever all ties with Grittini should he be found guilty of racist abuse.
He told the Corriere della Sera: "He is a good lad and a nice person.
"I spoke to him on Sunday morning to find out what had happened. He was a broken man - he was distraught. He asked to speak to me later on as he needed time to think.
"He told me it was just a prank similar to those that occur every Sunday in stadiums. It was probably the fact that a prestigious team like Milan were in town that made them more excitable.
"Of course, if I find out that this was not just a prank but a real act of racism then I will have no other option than to disassociate myself from him completely."
Italian state police confirmed that five other suspects have been identified thanks to footage captured by video cameras at the Stadio Carlo Speroni.
A statement published by the Polizia di Stato confirmed the five men are aged between 22 and 30, including four residents of Varese and one from Milan.