ROME, April 10 (Reuters) - The president of the Italian Footballers' Association has called for a change in the culture surrounding Italy's favourite sport after fans verbally and physically abused Inter Milan players when they returned home from a 2-1 away win over Serie A rivals Ascoli at the weekend.
'This was an episode of barbarity, intolerance and stupid violence fuelled by the hysteria that surrounds football in Italy,' Sergio Campana told Radio Anch'io on Monday.
'We need a cultural revolution - we need to learn to lose gracefully. But I believe it will take a generation.'
The latest incident to stain the image of Italian football happened in the early hours of Sunday as the team exited the terminal building at Milan's Malpensa airport, where they were met by about 50 fans, angry at their team's Champions League elimination by Villarreal last week.
Most of the fans limited themselves to hurling insults, but the situation degenerated in the car park, where captain Javier Zanetti and midfielder Cristiano Zanetti were punched and kicked by a smaller group before police intervened, allowing them to reach their cars and drive away. Neither player was seriously injured.
'We're talking about it now because the victims are footballers at Inter, but the outbreaks of violence are frequent, above all in Serie C (Italy's third division) and, I'm sorry to say it, on the pitches in the centre-south of Italy,' Campana said.
'Attacks outside the stadiums, in the dressing rooms, buses stopped as they come back from away matches, cars vandalised, threatening telephone calls at home.
'And we shouldn't make the mistake of blaming it all on a minority of fans.'
Inter president Giacinto Facchetti condemned the violence.
'We cannot accept that disappointment degenerates into violence. Violence is unacceptable for anyone that declares himself an Inter fan,' he said in a statement on the club's website.
The police chief at Malpensa airport, Enzo Ricciardi, said that he would be studying close-circuit television footage of the incident.
'We have enough evidence to be able to identity some of the people that were involved,' he was quoted as saying in La Gazzetta dello Sport.
In recent years, Inter have built up a reputation as having one of the most violent fan-bases in Italian football, the outbreaks of violence often coinciding with disappointing results on the pitch.
In December 2000, they threw a Molotov cocktail at Inter's team bus as it entered the San Siro stadium before a Cup match against Parma. In May 2001 they pushed a scooter off the second tier of the San Siro stadium.
Last season they brought the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final against AC Milan to a halt by raining flares and fire-crackers down on the pitch.
The match, which Inter were losing at the time, was abandoned and UEFA ordered Inter to play their next four European matches behind closed doors.