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Jan 4, 2013

Racist chants spark criminal probe

MILAN -- A public prosecutor is set to open a criminal inquiry after an exhibition match between AC Milan and lower division club Pro Patria was abandoned after racist chanting by fans.

The prosecutor in the northern town of Busto Arsizio is likely to pursue charges of inciting racial hatred against Pro Patria fans who abused Milan's black players, local media reported Friday.

One 20-year-old fan was cited by police after acknowledging involvement in the chants, and five more have been identified. Police were examining video footage to identify the others involved.

After repeated chants directed his way during Thursday's game, Ghana midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng kicked the ball in anger at a section of the crowd, took off his shirt and walked off the field with the rest of the Milan team.

Other Milan players Urby Emanuelson, Sulley Muntari and M'Baye Niang also were targeted by the chants.

Boateng insisted he will walk off the pitch again if he is racially abused -- even if it is in the Champions League -- and criticized FIFA for not doing more to tackle the issue.

"I don't care what game it is -- a friendly, Serie A or Champions League match, I'd walk off the pitch again and I think everyone would support me," he told CNN. "I saw massive support from England and massive players like Rio Ferdinand and Patrick Vieira, and I want to say thank you. I'm sad and angry that I'm the one that has to take action."

Boatang said he had complained to the referee three times about the abuse.

"I said to him if it happens again I'm not going to play any more. The referee said 'don't worry' but I said I do worry, it's not very nice," he said. "I was angry and I was sad, but it all came together and I said I didn't want to play any more. There were so many negative emotions that came up in me.

"I'm surprised we're still hearing these things in 2013. It's not the first time in my life I've had to hear or see things like this, but I'm 25 and don't want to take this bull---- any more."

The Italian soccer federation announced its own inquiry Thursday, while Milan president and former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi said his club wouldn't hesitate to walk off the field again.

"I can assure you that in any match, even international ones, where episodes like this occur, Milan will leave the pitch," Berlusconi said. "These uncivil episodes, these whistles and denigrating chants occur ever more frequently and they offend football and all of sport."

The international players' union, FIFPro, voiced its support for Milan's stance.

"FIFPro is not encouraging other players to directly walk of the field when they are racially abused," said Tony Higgins, the association's spokesman on anti-racism. "But the world of football has to realize that this abusive behavior must stop. Racism has no place in society or football. The players of Milan sent a clear message: if racism does not stop, then football will."

Former France international Lilian Thuram, who played in Italy with Parma and Juventus, noted that it was "the first time a big club took responsibility to make such a decisive step" by walking off.

"Indifference prevails in the majority of cases," Thuram told the Gazzetta dello Sport. "Teammates tend to lower their eyes and look elsewhere, underestimating the suffering of the players of color who are targeted.

"That's why I applaud the sensibility of a great player like (Milan captain) Massimo Ambrosini," Thuram added. "He took responsibility which gives a huge amount of help to the fight against racism."

"It was brave of Kevin Prince Boateng to do what he did today, and it was the right thing," tweeted Patrick Vieira, another former France international who played in Italy. "We need to stand up and stand together. Well done."

Meanwhile, Pro Patria president Pietro Vavassori announced that he would open the club's stadium to "all people of color" at its next match, inviting them to sit in the tribune of honor.

"Our hope is that the other Lega Pro (third and fourth division) presidents also support this initiative," Vavassori said. "The people who made those chants are not regular fans, but rather people who came to the stadium with the intention of ruining a festive match."

Vavassori added that Boateng's reaction was "understandable."

Information from Press Association and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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