AC Milan midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng has become the first player to cause a game to be abandoned because of racist abuse after his team-mates followed him off the pitch in protest at his treatment by opposition fans. In what campaigners hope could be a defining moment in the fight against racism, Boateng, with the full support of his AC Milan colleagues, forced a friendly match against -Italian fourth division side Pro Patria to be halted after 25 minutes.
The former Portsmouth and Tottenham midfielder was so incensed by the chants emanating from one corner of the ground that he picked the ball up and booted it towards the offending supporters in the stands before ripping off his shirt and storming off the pitch.
There was a brief period of confusion as players from both sides tried to talk to Boateng, but Milan's Italian captain Massimo Ambrosini instructed the rest of the Milan team to walk off in a show of support for Boateng. Anti-racism campaigners in Britain and fellow professionals across the game have also expressed their support for Boateng's show of defiance. It could set an example for other black players to follow in competitive -fixtures, thus challenging Uefa's -policy that players must remain on the pitch, regardless of crowd chants.
Uefa has repeatedly been criticised for its failure to take a tougher stance on racism. The governing body even threatened to book any player who walked off the pitch in response to racist chanting at the European Championship last summer.
Giancarlo Abete, president of the Italian Football Association president, said the incident "unspeakable and intolerable" and called an immediate inquiry. "No sanction or measure can erase the disdain for an unspeakable and intolerable episode," he said. "We must react with force and without silence to isolate the few criminals that transformed a friendly match into an uproar that offends all of Italian football."
AC Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri said he hoped his players had set a precedent in Italian football, which has long been plagued by -racist chanting and abuse. "I hope that [our actions] will be followed if it were to happen in official games, from the amateur championships to Serie A," he said.
"We are disappointed and saddened by what has happened. Milan play for the right to respect all -players. We need to stop these uncivilised gestures. We are sorry for all the other fans who came here for a beautiful day of sport. We promise to return, and we are sorry for the club and players of Pro Patria, but we could not make any other decision."
Boateng was not the only player targeted, with team-mates Urby Emanuelson, M'Baye Niang and -Sulley Muntari also targeted before the Ghana international snapped. "We were annoyed from the beginning," said Ambrosini, whose support for Boateng was significant because it meant the game had to be abandoned. "We wanted to give a strong signal. We could not continue the game in an atmosphere like this."
Although players have threatened to walk off in the past, it is the first time an entire team has left the pitch and halted a game. The Cameroon international Samuel Eto'o walked off the pitch while playing for Barcelona against Real Zaragoza in 2006, but was persuaded to return by team-mates and the match continued.
Roberto Carlos left the pitch after a banana was hurled at him while playing for Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala against Krylya Sovetov Samara in June 2011, but he was replaced by a substitute. Milan's organising director Umberto Gandini said the club had given Boateng and Ambrosini their full support: "It is so sad but we had to give a strong signal. Very proud of all Milan's players for their decision."
Manchester City captain, Vincent Kompany, was one of several Premier League players to congratulate Boateng. He wrote on Twitter: "How about becoming extremely intolerant towards racist idiots? They need to be told. I can only salute Milan's decision to leave the pitch. Also noted that the majority of the fans were completely supportive of the players." Boateng, who has been playing in Italy since 2010, was more modest, merely saying on his Twitter page that "it's a shame these things still happen pounds StopRacismforever".
Piara Powar, executive director of Football Against Racism in Europe, called for the Italian FA to take strong action. "We salute Kevin-Prince Boateng for his actions," he said.