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Passions have always run high in the stands of international soccer matches, but Kevin-Prince Boateng decided that the sports fans have crossed a line. The German-Ghanaian midfielder for AC Milan was playing a friendly game on January 3 when fans began shouting racially-charged insults at the player. Disgusted, Boateng decided that he would not be able to finish the game, and asked members of both his own and the opposing team to walk off the field in the 25th minute.
Boateng, who has been a popular soccer player in Germany since his days in the youth leagues, has played for A.C. Milan since 2010, and in that time, he claims he has been subjected to racial abuse from Italian fans. Thursday’s match was the first time, however, that Boateng was compelled to leave the field in the middle of the game, making sports news headlines. Boateng said that he had complained about the abuse to the referees three times during the match, but they failed to properly respond. After the racially-charge shouts continued, Boateng removed his jersey and kicked the ball into the stands before leaving the field. Other black players in the game reported hearing racially-charged insults from the stands, and said that the words were extremely hurtful.
During an interview with CNN, Boateng said, “”I don’t care what game it is — a friendly, Italian league or Champions League match — I would walk off again.”
International soccer has always attracted an intense, vocal, and often aggressive fan base, and while the more extreme fans have been tolerated in the past, recent behavior is causing players, teams, and even governments to take notice. Many are calling for strict penalties against the individual fans that instigate racial abuse, and teams are enacting a zero-tolerance policy for removing and banning fans from future sporting events.
“No sanction or measure can erase the disdain for an unspeakable and intolerable episode,” said Italian Football Association president Giancarlo Abete in a statement. “We must react with force and without silence to isolate the few criminals that transformed a friendly match into an uproar that offends all of Italian football.”
One of the fans who had been shouting racially-charged insults directed towards Boateng at the A.C. Milan/Pro Patria has been identified by security cameras set up around the North Italy stadium. Italian prosecutors have pressed charges against one 20-year old fan, and are hopeful that they will be able to identify the remaining culprits who derailed the game.
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