Florence: Italy must adopt a zero tolerance policy towards racism in football if they are to eradicate the problem from the sport, national team coach Cesare Prandelli said on Monday. A number of Italian clubs have been punished for racist incidents recently.
"It is a serious problem, a problem that is not only the national team's or Milan's but Italian football's," Prandelli said. "If we want to be credible on a European and worldwide level, we can't tolerate anything anymore. It starts with a 'boo' and then you don't know where it will go. It is a long path, but you have to make it clear to everyone how they have to behave."
AC Milan forward Mario Balotelli has said he will walk off the field the next time he is racially abused, following the example of strike partner Kevin-Prince Boateng, who led his team-mates off the pitch when he was racially abused during an exhibition game against an Italian fourth-tier side in January.
"It's never happened in the national team but we would be the first to go onto the pitch and embrace him so he wouldn't go off," Prandelli said.
"I haven't talked with (Balotelli) about racism. We won't just talk about it with him, but with everyone."
Italian referee chief Marcello Nicchi said earlier this week that any player who did walk off would be sent off.
Balotelli - who was again racially abused last night by Fiorentina fans on Sunday as Milan returned from their victory against Siena - took to Twitter to respond.
"Look again at this rule for racist buu that if I leave the pitch I leave my team in 10 please it's very inhumane," he wrote.
UEFA Head of Referees Pierluigi Collina said on Monday that a player who walks off in such an incident would not be sent off.
"It is not right that a player, in order to assert on of their own rights, to defend their dignity, must leave the pitch," Collina said. "But if this should happen, he should not be sent off. In UEFA competitions there is already a procedure that the delegates and referees should enact when such episodes happen, there are various phases from the temporary suspension of the game to the complete abandonment."
AC Milan's match against Roma this month was stopped for 97 seconds when visiting Roma supporters would not stop chanting at Balotelli and Boateng. Inter Milan and Lazio have both been fined following racist incidents during Europa League matches against Tottenham, with Lazio also being ordered to play two matches behind closed doors.