Italian newspaper Corriere dello Sport accused of 'fueling racism' with 'Black Friday' headline
Italian daily Corriere dello Sport has been accused of fuelling racism with its front page headline in Thursday's edition of the newspaper.
The paper ran the headline 'Black Friday' alongside pictures of Inter Milan's Romelu Lukaku and Roma's Chris Smalling. The two former Manchester United team-mates will face each other in Friday's Serie A meeting between the two teams.
Anti-discrimination organisation Fare network condemned the front page and its executive director Piara Powar branded it "at the very least clumsy".
He told the PA news agency: "Part of the problem we have with Italy and countries like that at the moment is people do not know where to draw a line.
"They don't know what is the right or wrong thing to do, what is appropriate or inappropriate and what might be racism and what might be acceptable.
"If this was two English players - Lukaku is Belgian obviously - and they had said it was a 'St George's Day clash' or both were Belgians and it was the 'Battle of Brussels' that would be different, but they are highlighting their race.
"Would they ever take two white Italian players and say it's 'White Tuesday'? They wouldn't and this is the issue. Why would you pick out two players who are black and highlight their race as a way to build up to the match? It crosses the line of acceptability."
Above its headline, Corriere dello Sport ran a subhead which read: "Lukaku and Smalling, former team-mates at United - and today idols at Inter and Roma - go head to head tomorrow: the Scudetto and Champions League football are up for grabs."
In the article the newspaper appeared to attempt to highlight the league's racism problem.
"In the faces of those idiots who boo, tomorrow everyone must instead go 'oooh' like children. It will be a Black Friday, but this is not an end-of-season sale," it said.
It went on to describe Lukaku and Smalling as "two giants of colour".
Powar added: "We have been told by our colleagues in Italy that in fact inside the paper the story is about how these are old colleagues from United and how they have both been standing up to racism after being subjected to it quite extensively, but the front cover is at the very least clumsy.
"We would argue this is the sort of thing that fuels racism - the way you talk about people and make a point of their race or the way in which the Corriere dello Sport has made a point of their race.
"This is the way in which the attitudes we see so often in Italian football right now are being entrenched and fuelled.
"We have identified some time ago Italy having a particular problem and those problems exist from the discourse coming from its politicians to media reporting on social issues, migration and media reporting on football and the failure of governing bodies there to take action.
"This is a good example of something outside of the stadium and something that is clearly related to football and is fuelling racism inside stadiums and wider attitudes towards people of African heritage in Italy."
Corriere dello Sport editor Ivan Zazzaroni subsequently posted a statement on his paper's website, claiming the writer's intention was to celebrate the "magnificent wealth of diversity" in football.
Zazzaroni wrote: "'Black Friday', for those who want to understand it and can understand it, was only praising diversity, taking pride in diversity, the magnificent wealth of diversity. If you don't understand it, it's because you can't do that.
"It's an innocent article, perfectly argued by (journalist) Roberto Perrone, that has been made poisonous by those who have poison inside them."
But Roma's English-language Twitter account expressed its shock and disgust at the headline.
"No one: Absolutely nobody: Not a single soul:" it said before adding "Corriere dello Sport headline writer:" together with an image of the front page.
Inter did not reference the newspaper article, but tweeted: "Football is passion, culture and brotherhood. We are and will always be against all forms of discrimination."
City rivals AC said on Twitter it was "totally unacceptable to see such casual ignorance on racism" and they would "not stay silent on this issue".
Serie A has been plagued by racist incidents this season, with Lukaku himself and Brescia forward Mario Balotelli among those to make allegations of being racially abused by supporters during games.
Only last week all 20 clubs in Italy's top tier signed an open letter which called on "all those who love Italian football" to unite to try to eradicate its "serious problem with racism".
Powar revealed his organisation made contact with Lukaka earlier this season and called for the players' union in Italy to do more.
"We know AC Milan in particular with Roma have been doing some very good work and are keen to take the initiative in Italy," he added.
"There is a lot going on in Italy, more than the English-speaking world can follow and some of it positive, but most of it I have to say is negative and of this kind.
"Players know we are there and there is a players' union in Italy and they also now need to speak out and be more forceful in things they are saying.
"They are, we believe, good people with good values, but they are absent in the debate.
"In the end, what will change Italy are people in Italy themselves taking control and condemning things like this and also generally trying to take control of the situation, but so far we haven't seen that."