The president of the Italian Referees’ Association (AIA) has called for stadiums to be shut and individuals jailed to combat racism but said it should not be down to match officials to deal with the issue.
Marcello Nicchi waded into the debate around racism in Italian football that reared its head again when Romelu Lukaku was abused by Cagliari fans during Inter’s 2-1 victory on September 1.
The incident followed a similar one at Cagliari last season when then-Juventus striker Moise Kean was targeted by some home fans, and Nicchi called for the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) to implement existing procedures and restrict attendance at grounds where abuse occurs.
Nicchi, a former referee who has been president of the AIA since 2009, told Corriere Dello Sport: “There are procedures in place and they need to be applied, as set out by the FIGC, to shut down certain sections of the stadium.
“We referees have a lot of responsibility on our shoulders to deal with the game, but it’s important here to clear the air and state the situation with absolute certainty: you cannot dump this problem on the referees.
“The referees will not change their attitude in this area.”
Nicchi also called for solidarity with the victims of abuse after a week in which a group of Inter fans suggested the monkey chants directed at Lukaku were not racist but “a form of respect”.
Lukaku said racism in football is a problem that “must be answered”, and Nicchi said Serie A clubs have the resources they need to take stronger action.
“The most important thing is not to underestimate the problem,” said Nicchi.
“I feel racists should be identified immediately, stopped and put in jail. It would serve as a deterrent, I am sure of it.
“There are dozens and dozens of CCTV cameras inside stadiums now, not to mention observers from the league and the police. Even the local council could get involved.
“We know full well who is in the stadium, who is leading the chants. All we need is the genuine desire to take action and it can be done.
“I also want to point out that the players insulted must never feel alone. We show full solidarity with those players who were shamefully abused.
“Evidently, we need exemplary punishment. Let’s get the first person to hurl racist abuse at a black player, throw him in prison and see what happens then. The time has come to take serious action.”