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Steven Zhang, the chairman of Inter Milan, is defending fans of a rival team who hurled racist chants at a player on his own team.
Romelu Lukaku, a striker for Inter Milan who is black, was called “monkey” by rival fans during a game against Cagliari in early September. Lukaku responded on Instagram with a call for players to unite against racism, but Zhang’s response to the incident went in another direction.
Instead of defending his own player, Zhang defended the Cagliari fans.
Zhang spoke with reporters after a European Club Association meeting, and according to the Associated Press, said that due to the club’s inclusive, diverse history, “a lot of fans, when they did it, the intention was not bad.” He also told reporters that non-discrimination is “embedded in the DNA” of Inter Milan.
Zhang’s defense of the fans echoes the fans’ own defense of their behavior. The Curva Nord, a group of extremely dedicated Inter fans, posted a letter to Lukaku on Facebook justifying the Cagliari fans’ chants by saying that racism doesn’t exist in Italy.
We are really sorry you thought that what happened in Cagliari was racist.
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.
We are a multiethnic fans organization and we have always welcomed players from everywhere. However, we have always used that “way” with other teams’ players in the past and we probably will in the future.
We are not racist and so are not the Cagliari fans.
When you declare that racism is a problem to be fought in Italy you just help the repression against all football fans including us and you contribute to create a problem that is not really there, not in the way that is perceived in other countries.
It’s blatantly silly to say that racism doesn’t exist in Italy, because racism exists everywhere. And if you need proof, they told a black soccer player — who has experienced racism firsthand — that he was wrong to call something racist and be offended by it.
Zhang said that he intends to meet with Lukaku soon. Considering that Zhang took the side of the opposing team’s fans who shouted racist taunts at his own player, that meeting should be a doozy.
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