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Romelu Lukaku Urges Serie A To Do Something, Anything About Racist Fans

Romelu Lukaku of FC Internazionale celebrates after scoring his team's first goal during the Coppa Italia Semi Final match between Juventus FC and FC Internazionale at Allianz Stadium on April 4, 2023 in Turin, Italy.
Sportinfoto/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Deep into the first leg of Tuesday's Coppa Italia semifinal between Internazionale and Juventus, Inter striker Romelu Lukaku stepped up to the penalty spot with his side down 1-0. Lukaku had a golden opportunity in the 95th minute to tie things up before the two teams headed back to Milan and the San Siro for the second leg of the tie. The Belgian, currently on loan in Italy from Chelsea, stuttered up to the ball and paused right before hitting it into the left side of the goal, opposite a diving Mattia Perin.

And then, a whole bunch of bullshit happened, leading to pushing and shoving, expulsions, and accusations of racism (everything starts at 10:01 in the video below):

After the scuffle, the final tally sat at three red cards: Lukaku got a second yellow for his celebration, directed at the Juventus fans, while Juan Cuadrado got a red for seemingly saying something naughty to Lukaku in the aftermath of the penalty. Inter goalie Samir Handanović rounded out the expulsions, as he and Cuadrado also got into it with each other.

Let's go back to Lukaku, though. The striker had picked up a yellow card earlier in the match for a bad tackle in the 80th minute. That he picked up a second yellow card for what the ref considered antagonizing the opposing fans is, in and of itself, not out of the ordinary; this is how Italy has decided to referee its game.

Of course, it's not that simple when it comes to Italian soccer. Lukaku's management released a statement shortly after the game, saying that the home fans in Turin were subjecting him to racist abuse both before and after the penalty. The statement from Michael Yormark, president of Roc Nation Sports International, also claims that Lukaku did not celebrate any differently that he usually does for goals:

Lukaku himself posted on Instagram, urging Serie A, which runs the Coppa Italia, to do something about the racist abuse, calling back to a similar incident he experienced in 2019, his first season in Italy.

On Wednesday, Inter also released its own statement in support of Lukaku:

For its part, Juventus released a statement on Wednesday as well, saying that the club is cooperating with local police to find those responsible. Juventus had previously banned a fan for life in 2021 for hurling racist abuse at AC Milan goalie Mike Maignan during a Serie A match.

Serie A released a statement on Wednesday, condemning the racist chanting but not going as far as confirming that an investigation will take place, or that any punishments will be handed down to the hosts of Tuesday's match. Instead, the league put the onus on the clubs, saying that they will identify the culprits and ban them for life.

It's been a banner week for racism in Italian soccer: Lazio received a one-match stand closure as a result of anti-Semitic chants during the Roma-Lazio capital derby in March, while Roma received a fine for fans directing racist abuse towards Sampdoria manager Dejan Stankovic on Sunday. Roma manager Jose Mourinho was able to get his side's fans to stop the chanting towards his former player, an action that lowered the club's fine to €8,000.

Serie A can flaunt its anti-racism campaigns all it wants, but it's hard to take the league's commitment seriously when Lukaku can receive a red card for "antagonizing" racist fans. It's not the referee's fault so much as the league's; the official is just going by the book there, and the book emphasizes the league's priorities. In this case, by carding players for having the temerity to tell some racists to eat shit, Serie A is creating a false premise under which blame can be equally assigned to both players and fans. The league is trying to keep the peace by shaming both sides into submission. The result is that the players feel further victimized from all sides, and the fans remain empowered to hurl racist insults with little punishment.

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