Italian soccer combats anti-Semitism with Anne Frank’s diary

ROME — Anne Frank’s diary will be read aloud at all soccer matches in Italy this week, the Italian soccer federation announced Tuesday after shocking displays of anti-Semitism by fans of the Rome club Lazio.

Lazio supporters on Sunday littered the Stadio Olimpico in Rome with images of Anne Frank — the young diarist who died in the Holocaust — wearing a jersey of city rival Roma. The ultra right-wing fans of Lazio associate their Roma counterparts with being left-wing and Jewish, and had hoped to incite Roma fans, since the teams share the same stadium.

Stadium cleaners found the anti-Semitic stickers on Monday and Italian police have opened a criminal inquiry into the case.

The Anne Frank diary passage reading will be combined with a minute of silence observed before Serie A, B and C matches in Italy this week, plus amateur and youth games over the weekend, to promote Holocaust remembrance, the soccer federation said.

Racism has been widespread for years in many Italian and European stadiums — targeting both players and fans — and measures such as banning fans and forcing teams to play behind closed doors have not solved the problem.

Outrage over the stickers came from a wide variety of officials and rights groups across Europe, from both inside and outside the world of sports.

“Anne Frank doesn’t represent a people or an ethnic group. We are all Anne Frank when faced with the unthinkable,” Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano said. “What has happened is inconceivable.”

Italian Premier Paolo Gentiloni called the stickers “unbelievable, unacceptable and not to be minimized.”

Antonio Tajani, the head of the European Parliament who is Italian, also denounced those responsible, saying in Brussels that anti-Semitism has no place in Europe, which must remain a place of religious tolerance.

“Using the image of Anne Frank as an insult against others is a very grave matter,” Tajani said.

The Italian soccer federation will also likely open an investigation, which could result in a complete stadium ban for Lazio — matches played behind closed doors without fans — or force the team to play on neutral ground.

“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.”

Lazio’s ultra group 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 chosen Anne Frank diary passage reads: “I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more.”

Lazio President Claudio Lotito sought Tuesday to disassociate the club from its hard-core “ultra” fans by visiting Rome’s main synagogue. He 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.”

Still, the club’s relations with Rome’s Jewish community remained strained.

“We are outraged by what happened in the stadium a few days ago. But we are also outraged by what happens every week in the stadiums,” Ruth Dureghello, the president of Rome’s Jewish community, told The Associated Press.

“Stadiums cannot be places that are beyond the law and places where anti-Semitist, racist and homophobic people can find a place to show themselves,” Dureghello said. “We need to sit down around a table and talk to the institutions, the soccer teams and the soccer federation, to enforce actions and establish a common line for the future.”

The northern end of the stadium where Lazio’s “ultra” fans usually sit was already closed Sunday for the match against 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 sit where Roma’s hard-core fans usually sit for their home matches.

Lazio fans have a long history of racism and anti-Semitism.

The latest partial stadium ban for the team stemmed from derogatory chants directed at 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 for racist chanting during the Rome derby in April.

Also this season, Lazio beat Belgian team Zulte Waregem in a Europa League match behind closed doors due to punishment from UEFA for racist chants aimed at a Sparta Prague player two seasons ago.

In the past, a Lazio banner nearly 20 years ago aimed at Roma supporters read: “Auschwitz Is Your Homeland; The Ovens Are Your Homes.” Another message honored the slain Serbian paramilitary leader, Arkan, who was notorious for alleged war crimes in the 1990s Balkans wars.

But racism and anti-Semitism have also been seen at other European soccer clubs, highlighting the ineffectiveness of campaigns by soccer bodies all the way up to UEFA and FIFA, the European and world organizations.

Last season, Ghana’s Sulley Muntari was initially banned for protesting against racism in Italy. Muntari said he was treated like a “criminal” after being shown two yellow cards when he walked off the field during a Serie A game in response to racial abuse while with Pescara.

Four years ago, six fans of Italian lower-division club Pro Patria were issued jail sentences for inciting racial hatred during a friendly against AC Milan.

In the English Premier League, chants of “Yid” have often been hurled at Tottenham fans by rival supporters. Tottenham fans, many of whom come from the Jewish communities of north London, sometimes chant “Yiddo” themselves to deflect abuse.

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