Messina’s Ivory Coast defender, Marc Zoro threatened to walk off the pitch after being subjected to racist abuse by some Inter fans during their Serie A home match against Inter Milan.
Matters came to a head 22 minutes into the second half, when after being abused throughout the game, Zoro went to collect the ball from near the Inter supporters' section and was greeted by a barrage of monkey chants. The 21-year-old decided that enough was enough; he picked up the ball and walked off the pitch to the 4th official to ask him to halt the game.
Inter’s black forwards, Obafemi Martins and Adriano pleaded with the tearful Zoro to continue the game – previously they have faced similar abuse and felt that to walk off would be a victory for the racists. Inter’s players called upon their fans to cease their shameful action whilst Zoro returned to the pitch with the support of other players and the Messina crowd.
After the game, Inter responded by adding a “No to racism” message prominently on their website. Club officials expressed their concern over the episode, with club president Giacinto Facchetti offering a personal apology to Zoro.
Zoro commented on the saga,
“We are used to this kind of shameful behaviour but I cannot accept people coming to my home stadium to insult me. I understood why Martins and Adriano tried to keep me on the pitch. I accepted it because it was a shame to call off the game and ruin Inter's result through no fault of my colleagues.”
The incident has ignited a huge debate within the Italian media and football community, with many sympathising with Zoro’s plight. The Italian football authorities (FIGC), who are investigating the incidents, have responded with unprecedented action at matches over the next fortnight. All Coppa Italia matches and league games, from Serie A to the minor leagues, will kick off 5 minutes late to allow players time to enter the pitch with “No to racism” banners.
The media spotlight has now refocused attention onto the problem of racism in Italian football. Previously at a public meeting at the British Embassy, FIGC’s vice-president Abete had denied that racism existed or was a problem in Italian football. Curiously, he now states that the Italian federation is working hard to eliminate racism from Italian football.
As Daniela Conti, of Italian FARE partner UISP, points out,
“During this year’s Action Week we have contacted FIGC, Lega Calcio and all clubs in Serie A, B and C; only Pisa, Nuorese and Ancona answered, joining the campaign. While in the UK all clubs get involved, sending their players to talk in schools. Even in Spain, things are moving. Italy is the only country where football remains silent.”
Only time will tell if Italian football institutions and clubs will really get involved in the fight against racism this time, or if this week’s strong statements and initiatives will cease as Zoro’s stand will be forgotten.