ROME (AP) — Racist chants at every opportunity. A Lazio banner in the intra-city derby nearly 20 years ago aimed at Roma supporters that read: “Auschwitz Is Your Homeland; The Ovens Are Your Homes.”
Another message honoring the slain Serbian paramilitary leader, Arkan.
Lazio fans have a long history of racism and anti-Semitism and the Roman club’s supporters established another low over the weekend. They littered the Stadio Olimpico with superimposed images of Anne Frank — the young diarist who died in the Holocaust — wearing a jersey of city rival Roma.
“The anti-Semitic squalor that prompted some Lazio fans to make fun of even Anne Frank’s memory is a shameful gesture,” said ex-Italian Premier Matteo Renzi. “Obviously we’re talking about a small minority but not shedding light on this news would be a mistake.
“Because when things like this happen it’s important that children know and learn how to deal with a complete lack of dignity,” Renzi added.
With a long stadium ban likely and police having opened a criminal inquiry, Lazio president Claudio Lotito sought Tuesday to disassociate the club from its hard-core “ultra” fans.
In a visit to Rome’s main synagogue, Lotito said the club would intensify its efforts to combat racism and anti-Semitism and organize an annual trip to the Auschwitz concentration camp with some 200 young Lazio fans to “educate them not to forget.”
The northern curva (end) of the stadium where Lazio’s “ultra” fans usually sit was closed on Sunday for the match with Cagliari, due to racist chanting during a match against Sassuolo earlier this month.
As a result, Lazio decided to open the southern end and let the ultras in where Roma’s hard-core fans sit for their home matches in the stadium both sides share.
“Unfortunately it’s something that affects a lot of clubs, a lot of fan groups and a lot of cities. But you can’t generalize,” Italian Players Association president Damiano Tommasi said in an interview with The Associated Press last week looking ahead to the Lazio-Cagliari match.
“You’ve got to educate as much as possible those who go to the stadium for these reasons,” Tommasi added. “And leave them out. Certainly the best solution isn’t letting them in to another area of the stadium.”
Lazio beat Cagliari 3-0 for its fourth straight win and is fourth in the standings, level on points with six-time defending champion Juventus. Stadium cleaners found the anti-Semitic stickers on Monday.
Antonio Tajani, the head of the European Parliament, denounced those responsible during a session in Brussels on Tuesday, saying that anti-Semitism has no place.
“Using the image of Anne Frank as an insult against others is a very grave matter,” Tajani said.
Tajani, who is Italian, said the EU must remain a place of religious tolerance.
Lazio’s ultra group, the “Irriducibili” (diehards), expressed surprise at the widespread outrage.
“There are other cases that we feel should lead the newscasts and fill newspaper pages,” the group said in a statement on Facebook.
The latest partial stadium ban stemmed from derogatory chants directed at visiting Sassuolo players Claud Adjapong and Alfred Duncan.
Adjapong was born in Italy to Ghanaian parents and has represented Italy Under-19s. Duncan is from Ghana.
Lazio will also be without fans in the northern end when Udinese visits on Nov. 5, as it was also decided to apply a sanction that had been conditionally suspended for racist chanting during the Rome derby in April.
Also this season, Lazio beat Belgian side Zulte Waregem 2-0 in a Europa League match behind closed doors due to punishment from UEFA for racist chants aimed at a Sparta Prague player in the Roman side’s last continental appearance two seasons ago.
The club promoted an anti-racism initiative for the Cagliari game, saying it was up to other fans to educate the offending supporters until their “ignorance and lack of respect for the most elementary rules of coexistence disappear once and for all” from soccer stadiums.
“There are no justifications. These incidents must be met with disapproval, without any ifs, ands or buts,” Sports Minister Luca Lotti said. “I’m sure that the responsible authorities will shed light on what happened and that those responsible will quickly be identified and punished.”