Thousands of Napoli fans are set to show their support for racism victim Kalidou Koulibaly by donning masks of the defender when the Serie A title challengers host Carpi on Sunday.
France-born Senegal international Koulibaly was the victim of monkey chants during Napoli’s 2-0 win at Lazio on Wednesday when the referee, in accordance with league regulations, halted the match to demand a stop to the abuse.
Lazio were later handed a 50,000 euros fine and will see the Curva Nord (North End) of the Stadio Olimpico closed to fans for their next two league games.
Referee Massimiliano Irrati’s decision to stop the game for three minutes to restore order was roundly applauded, including by Koulibaly — who showed his disdain for the racists by offering his Napoli shirt to a young Lazio-supporting ball boy.
A supporters’ group, ‘Quelli del Sangue Azzurro’ (The Blue Blooded Ones), are now encouraging Napoli fans to show they stand fully behind Koulibaly by wearing the masks during Sunday’s home game at the San Paolo stadium. Napoli are commonly known as the Azzurri (The Blues).
A statement from the group 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.”
The gesture is reminiscent of the stance taken by Treviso players in 2001 to show their support for 18-year-old Nigerian player Schengun Omolade.
He fell victim to the racism of Treviso’s ‘Blue Army’ supporters’ group — notorious for abusing black players from other teams — when they turned on him and sang: “We don’t want blacks in our team.”
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.
For what is now regarded as the first real stand against racist supporters in Italian football, Treviso’s players were feted in the national press — although they famously refused to blacken their faces for a subsequent photo call.
“Our gesture has been made, and we don’t want to be seen to be benefiting from it,” said then Treviso senior player Fabio Viviani.
Italy’s problem with racist supporters is well documented, with several high profile players falling victim to abuse over the years.
Black Dutch players Ruud Gullit and Aaron Winter complained of racist abuse in their time in Italy, sparking a ‘No al razzimo!’ (No To Racism) day in 1992.
Former France and Arsenal midfielder Patrick Vieira was insulted by Lazio fans when he played at Inter Milan, as was former England player Paul Ince when he played with the Nerazzurri between 1995-1997.
Mario Balotelli, the Liverpool striker who is on loan at AC Milan, has suffered from racist taunts on and off during his years of playing in Italy’s top flight.
In January 2013, AC Milan player Kevin-Prince Boateng sparked a walk-off by the team after he and several of the team’s black players were victim to monkey chances in a friendly with lower league side Pro Patria. – Agence France-Presse