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FOOTBALL

Fans fulfil mask pledge to racism victim Koulibaly

Thousands of Napoli fans made good a pledge to racism victim Kalidou Koulibaly by filling the San Paolo stadium with masks of the Senegal defender prior to kick off against Carpi on Sunday.

Fans fulfil mask pledge to racism victim Koulibaly
People hold flyers depicting the face of Napoli's French defender Kalidou Koulibaly in solidarity with the player, who suffered racist abuse last week. Photo: Carlo Hermann/AFP

“It's great what the fans did today, it shows their affection for a lad who has a wonderful character,” Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri told reporters after a 1-0 win kept them top of Serie A with a two-point lead on champions Juventus.

The latest in a long line of racist incidents hit Italian football last week when France-born Senegal international Koulibaly was the victim of monkey chants during a 2-0 win at Lazio.

Referee Massimiliano Irrati, in accordance with league regulations, halted the match for nearly four minutes to demand a stop to the abuse.

Lazio were later handed a €50,000 fine and will see the Curva Nord (North End) of the Stadio Olimpico closed to fans for their next two home games.

While Irrati's decision to stop the game was roundly applauded as one of the league's new initiatives to stamp out racism, Koulibaly showed his disdain for his abusers by offering his Napoli shirt to a young Lazio-supporting ball boy.

A supporters' group, 'Quelli del Sangue Azzurro' (The Blue Blooded Ones), later called on Azzurri fans to show their full support for Koulibaly by holding up masks of his face.

And fans replied in their thousands, filling almost the entire stadium with masks of the African's face prior to kick-off against the visiting league strugglers.

A statement from the group last week said: “Everyone in Naples is offended by what happened to our young star. Because of this, we want to show our full support to Koulibaly.

“We are all with you, Kalidou. Our invitation to Napoli fans is to print a photo of the defender and put it on your face when the teams come on the pitch.”

In a post on his Instagram account, Koulibaly said: “It was unforgettable. Thanks to all the fans who, thanks to this memorable initiative, made the San Paolo an even more special place to be.”

The gesture was reminiscent of the stance taken by Treviso players in 2001 to show their support for 18-year-old Nigerian player Schengun Omolade, who fell victim to his own club's notoriously racist 'Blue Army' supporters' group.

At their next game, Treviso's starting team ran out on to the pitch with their faces blackened as Omolade – who had not been informed of the players' plans – sat on the bench astounded.

Italy's problem with racist supporters is well documented, with several high profile players falling victim to abuse over the years including Ruud Gullit, Aaron Winter, Patrick Vieira, Paul Ince, Mario Balotelli and Kevin-Prince Boateng.

FOOTBALL

Euro 2020: Concern about virus spread after Italy players’ ‘unauthorised’ victory parade through Rome

Italy’s national football team reportedly insisted on taking an open-top bus tour through Rome to show off their European Championship trophy to crowds of fans - despite city authorities forbidding it amid concern about the spread of coronavirus.

Euro 2020: Concern about virus spread after Italy players' ‘unauthorised’ victory parade through Rome
Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

The team’s bus parade through the city on Monday night following their Euro 2020 triumph “was not authorised”, according to Matteo Piantedosi the head of Rome’s prefettura (the public safety authority).

Thousands of fans packed the streets of central Rome to see the team celebrate their cup win after beating England on penalties in the final.

READ ALSO: ‘Football came home’: Italy celebrates Euro 2020 victory over England

Piantedosi told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera on Wednesday: “We had denied permission to celebrate Italy’s victory in the European Championships on the open bus, but the pact was not respected.”

Piantedosi, who is Rome’s top public security official, said police had “no choice” but to let the parade go ahead after players Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci insisted on it.

Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

A meeting had been held on Friday with the Italian football federation (FIGC) to discuss plans for the celebrations if Italy won, said Piantedosi.

“I had agreed the line with Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese and Chief of Police Lamberto Giannini,” he said.

“It was clearly explained that [the parade] was not possible. We said we could not authorize it.”

Piantedosi said the Italian football federation (FIGC) initially agreed to hold a “controlled” ceremony in Rome’s central Piazza del Popolo instead of the parade.

After players insisted on the bus tour on Monday however, Piantedosi said, authorities reluctantly let them go ahead due to fears of sparking public disorder.

“At that point we had no choice but to acknowledge the situation and handle it in the best way we could,” he said.

READ ALSO: Covid cases on the rise in Europe once again as WHO warns of Euro 2020 risk

Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

In a statement on Wednesday, the FIGC said it had acted responsibly but decided not to disappoint fans who had come to celebrate with the team.

Footage of large crowds thronging the bus carrying the ‘Azzurri’ and the European Championship trophy through the capital however fuelled concerns about new outbreaks of coronavirus, after Italy’s infection rate began to rise again last week.

The World Health Organization warned earlier this month that crowds and gatherings connected to football matches will fuel a new rise in cases across Europe this summer.

READ ALSO: Delta variant in Italy will be ‘prevalent within 10 days’: health official

Italy’s health minister Roberto Speranza also voiced concerns on Monday about the consequences of people gathering to watch sporting events.

He said the European football championship win was “a great joy after terrible months,” but “even in these moments of national pride we can’t forget that our ‘game’ to defeat Covid is not yet won.”

There are currently minimal health restrictions in place across Italy, however masks are supposed to be worn in crowded public places, including outdoors.

“Footage shows that police were virtually the only ones [in the crowd] wearing masks,” said Piantedosi.

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