MILAN, ITALY – AC Milan owner Silvio Berlusconi pledged Friday that his team would walk off the pitch again to support a player who was victim of racist abuse by fans, as the move was widely hailed as setting a precedent against bigotry.
Italy’s former prime minister, who is both president and owner of the club, spoke out a day after German-born Ghanaian forward Kevin-Prince Boateng was heckled during a friendly by fans of Pro Patria and the Milan giants left the field in protest.
Boateng won plaudits for taking a stance against racist fans who blight the game, although some, including former Milan players Gennaro Gattuso and Clarence Seedorf, questioned his approach.
Berlusconi, however, said he would back his players if they walked off the pitch again whether in domestic or continental matches, calling the scenes at fourth-tier Pro Patria, which is based in Busto Arsizio, near Milan, “disgraceful.”
“I can assure you that in every game, including international, if we experience episodes of this nature we will, as a rule, leave the pitch,” Berlusconi said, according to the Italian news agency ANSA.
Boateng said he would have no hesitation in walking off the pitch again if he suffered similar abuse in the future.
“I don’t care what game it is — a friendly, Serie A or Champions League match, I’d walk off the pitch again and I think everyone would support me,” Boateng told CNN.
“I’m surprised we’re still hearing these things in 2013. It’s not the first time in my life I’ve had to hear or see things like this, but I’m 25 and don’t want to take this any more.”
Soccer players and sports commentators said Boateng’s protest had highlighted a problem that has been tolerated for too long in Italian stadiums and which continues to dog some parts of the European game.
Damiano Tommasi, head of the Italian soccer players’ union Assocalciatori, told La Repubblica: “It’s a strong, important signal that finally sets a precedent.”