Romelu Lukaku, a soccer player for the Italian team Inter Milan in the Series A league, is asking soccer leagues across the globe to stand up against racist chants from fans.
On Sunday when Lukaku was about to take the winning penalty in his team’s 2-1 victory over Cagliari Calcio, many Cagliari fans began making monkey noises and chants, which is commonplace in European soccer.
Afterward, Lukaku posted a letter to Instagram and said something must be done so he and other players of color don’t have to endure racist treatment on the field.
“Many players in the last month have suffered from racial abuse. I did yesterday too,” he wrote on Sept. 2. “Football is a game to be enjoyed by everyone and we shouldn’t accept any form of discrimination that will put our game in shame. I hope the football federations all over world react strongly on all cases of discrimination.”
“Ladies and gentlemen it’s 2019,” he added. “Instead of going forward we’re going backwards and I think as players we need unity and make a statement on this matter to keep this game clean and enjoyable for everyone.”
But in a letter that was posted on an Inter Milan’s Facebook page on Sept. 3, fans said the chanting wasn’t racist at all, just a technique used to frustrate players.
“Hi Romelu. We are really sorry you thought that what happened in Cagliari was racist,” the letter read. “You have to understand that Italy is not like many other north European countries where racism is a real problem. We understand that it could have seemed racist to you, but it is not like that.”
“In Italy we use some ways only to help our teams and to try to make our opponents nervous, not for racism but to mess them up,” the letter continued. “Please consider this attitude of Italian fans as a form of respect for the fact they are afraid of you for the goals you might score against their teams and not because they hate you or they are racist.”
“We are a multi-ethnic fans organisation and we have always welcomed players from everywhere,” the fans added. “However, we have always used that way with other teams’ players in the past and we probably will in the future.”
Series A issued a statement and said it plans to “identify, isolate and ban those ignorant individuals whose shameful actions and behaviors are completely against those values that Cagliari Calcio strongly promotes in all their initiatives.”
Other players who’ve been subjected to racist taunts on the soccer field include Sulley Muntari of Ghana, who received a one-game suspension after he walked out of a game after monkey chants began.
And earlier this year Cagliari fans were blasted for giving the same treatment to Blaise Matuidi, who later talked about the incident in an interview.
“We cannot ignore this, we must fight it. We can no longer hear that [monkey chant and] be scared. We have to be courageous and fight that,” Matuidi explained. “The referee did not take the right decision. The decision he should have taken was to stop the game.”