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Stewart Coggin

Pitiful Punishment

By January 16, 2010

So the Lega Calcio have closed a section of Juventus' Stadio Olimpico because of the racist behavior of the club's fans.

The Curva Sud, where the hardcore ultras sit and regularly vent their racist spleen will not be open when the club host Roma on January 23.

The ultras have acquired the unpleasant habit of singing songs about Inter Milan's Ghanaian-born striker Mario Balotelli. "If you jump, Balotelli dies," goes the little ditty.

Some, such as AC Milan midfielder Clarence Seedorf, have attempted to dismiss the chant, claiming it isn't racially motivated, merely an offensive song about a player who has rubbed Juventus up the wrong way on more than one occasion.

Indeed, the Ultras released a statement last year attributing the provocation to the player's on-field petulance, not the color of his skin.

'Super Mario' is a spiky character, no doubt. I watched Juve's win over Inter in December, and on being introduced as a substitute, Balotelli's main priority appeared to be winding up the Bianconeri players and fans.

That was the first time the clubs had met since April 2009 when Juve fans sang chants such as "a Black Italian does not exist." Juve were handed a one-game stadium ban because of the incident, but that has obviously had little impact as the chanting has continued into this season.

It is now surely time for the authorities to play hard ball. No more meaningless fines, no more one-match fan bans or part stadium closures.

If this was going on in England, the Football Association would have come down on Juve like a ton of bricks. But in Italy and Spain, where former Barcelona striker Samuel Eto'o was subjected to racial abuse, the punishments rarely seem to fit the crime.

Well, it's time things changed. Some clubs in England have a system whereby fans can text the club with a row and seat number if a nearby supporter is being abusive. Perhaps that's an idea.

Minor fines, and one-match bans seem to be having little affect. These people need to be identified and given long bans from soccer. Perhaps the threat of a points deduction would prompt Juventus to act.

It seems harsh to force the club to play a series of matches behind closed doors, as the percentage of supporters just want to watch the match and should not be penalized. But if that action is successful in hammering home the message that racist behavior will not be tolerated, so be it.

Photo © Getty Images

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