Italian soccer team tries to overcome racist fans


ROME, Sept. 5 (JTA) — An Italian soccer team with a history of racist and anti-Semitic fans is working to replace that image with one of unity.

The Lazio team of Rome joined Israel’s Maccabi Haifa and Asec Mimosas of the Ivory Coast in the Shalom Cup, a tournament aimed at combating racism and promoting interethnic harmony.

Asec Mimosas won the three-way tournament, held in Rome’s Olympic Stadium on Monday night.

Lazio’s participation in the high-profile match demonstrates “a commitment that we want to carry forward on a long-term basis,” said Sergio Cragnotti, the club’s president. “Fighting against racism and violence must be a lesson for everyone, beginning with young people.”

In recent years, Lazio fans have come under fire for using racist and anti-Semitic slogans against opposing teams. Three groups of Lazio fans boycotted the Shalom Cup, calling it an “improbable” and “anachronistic.”

Only some 8,000 people attended the Shalom Cup, but a large banner reading “Racism Is Disgusting” dominated the stands.

“Even if it is acting late after years of guilty tolerance of its militant fans, Lazio has recently been doing everything to make up for lost time,” wrote Stefano Boldrini in the La Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper.

In addition to participating in the Shalom Cup, Lazio members have made visits to Jewish schools, donned T-shirts with anti-racism slogans and spoken out publicly against militant fans.

The tournament — which pitted each of the three participating teams in a mini-match against the others — was marred by one incident.

At one point, a banner reading “Against Zionist Racism for a True Peace, Intifada Until Victory” was briefly unfurled in the stands.

A few years back, in a match between Lazio and arch-rival Roma — a team supported by many Jews —

Lazio fans displayed a banner that told Roma fans, “Auschwitz Is Your Homeland; The Ovens Are Your Home.”

That and similar incidents led authorities and soccer officials to say they would crack down on the fans or stop matches if the disruptive behavior continued.

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