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Wednesday, 2 February, 2000, 22:28 GMT
Italian soccer clubs to curb racism

Lazio stadium Lazio fans proclaim "Honour to the Tiger Arkan"

By Orla Guerin in Rome

Leading soccer clubs in Italy have pledged to give their support to a controversial new move by the government to halt play during any matches where offensive banners are displayed.

The government has threatened to have matches played behind closed doors if fans persist with racist behaviour.

The sports world and the clubs are with us - they are fed up with fans like these
Giovanna Melandri - Italian Minister of Culture
The government's threat follows last Sunday's game between Lazio and Bari when a group of Lazio fans held up a banner praising the slain Serbian war crime suspect, Arkan, and a portrait of the former fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

The Italian government accept that these measures are extreme but insist they are essential if racism and intolerance are to be stamped out.

Lazio fans Lazio fans display the Celtic cross and a portrait of Mussolini
Play will only be interrupted as a last resort. The authorities are hoping that the threat alone will stop the display of racist banners, and that improved security will make it harder to bring offensive material into the grounds.

But if racist symbols or messages are produced, Italy's Minister of Culture Giovanna Melandri told the BBC, matches will be suspended.

"The sports world and the clubs are with us," she said, adding that: "They are fed up with fans like these."


It will be left to the football authorities to decide how to operate the new measures, but there are concerns about what this tough new policy will mean in practice.

It could interrupt play at critical moments and thereby affect the outcome of a match - something that fans might try to manipulate.

Salas of Lazio against Garzia of Bari Fans might exploit the measure to stop matches at critical moments
There are worries too about how far the police should go to try to remove offensive material.

The problem at last Sunday's Lazio versus Bari match was not a one-off.

Swastikas have become a regular sight at games here.

However, the government is keen to stress that only a small minority of fans are involved and that this phenomenon is not unique to Italy.

But political and football authorities here say they will not allow Italian stadiums to be breeding grounds for intolerance.

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See also:
08 Mar 99 |  Football
Anti-racism drive increased
25 Nov 98 |  Football
UEFA rejects racist chants protest
29 Mar 98 |  Football
Red card for racists
30 Oct 97 |  Sport
Kick out football racism

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