ROME – Fifa president Gianni Infantino has called on fans to “shut up all the racists”, after Lecce defender Samuel Umtiti and teammate Lameck Banda were subjected to racial abuse during their home Serie A game against Lazio on Wednesday.
French defender Umtiti reportedly left the pitch in tears after he and Banda were abused by visiting Lazio fans.
The referee stopped the game in the second half because of racist taunts “coming from the visitor sector occupied by Lazio supporters”, Italian news agency Ansa said.
Infantino showed his support for Umtiti and Zambian Banda in a social media post.
“Solidarity with Samuel Umtiti and Lameck Banda – let’s shout it loud and clear: No to racism,” he wrote in a caption to photos of the pair.
“May the huge majority of fans, who are good people, stand up to shut up all the racists once and for all.”
Cameroon-born defender Umtiti, who won the 2018 World Cup with France and is on loan at Lecce from Barcelona, was the primary target of the abuse.
He posted a message on Instagram saying: “Only football, fun, joy. The rest doesn’t count.”
Lazio fans also hurled racist insults at Zambian international Banda during the first half, Ansa reported.
“Racist insults were drowned out by choruses of encouragement towards our champion,” Lecce said in a statement.
Lecce president Saverio Sticchi Damiani said that the referee halted the game and after stadium announcers called for the abuse to stop, “Umtiti asked that the match resume”.
The 29-year-old player left the pitch in tears at the end of the match and received a standing ovation from the Lecce crowd, according to Italian media.
“When the referee stopped the game, waiting for the announcer to call for an end to the racist chants, Umtiti asked for the game to resume because he wanted to respond to the insults he received on the pitch. He reacted like a true champion,” newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport quoted Damiani as saying.
Lecce, who won 2-1, afterwards praised their fans for responding to the abuse by chanting Umtiti’s name.
“The racist insults were drowned out by the cheers of encouragement for our champion!” the club said on Twitter, along with the hashtag in English #KeepRacismOut.
Lazio said in a statement on Thursday: “This is by no means the first case of racist abuse in Italian football, particularly among clubs that have connections to the country’s far right.
“Lazio fans are not racists and cannot be associated with a few individuals who seriously damage the club’s image.”
Fascist fan groups are common across Italy. Lazio’s ultras group the “Irriducibili” have hardcore supporters with ties to the extreme right that stretch back to at least the 1970s.
On the match, Lazio coach Maurizio Sarri told Sky Sports: “It’s difficult to give an explanation after these situations. The team played thirty minutes of high level, in complete control of the match.
“It’s not a tactical problem... They upped the tempo when we allowed them to, when they saw us vulnerable they were very good at biting and tearing us apart.”