hanaian veteran midfielder Sulley Muntari had had enough. So he walked off the field before the final whistle.
The 32-year-old, who was previously a regular with Inter and AC Milan and Udinese in the Italian Serie A and is now active for Pescara, would act himself if nobody would on his behalf. It was the 90th minute of Sunday’s 1-0 loss at Cagliari, and Muntari had been racially abused by the home fans all game long.
Muntari claims a group of fans had been jeering him all game, according to several reports. Some of them were kids. At halftime, Muntari apparently gave his jersey to one of the children, in hopes of changing the boy’s mind about him.
“There was a little kid doing it with his parents standing nearby,” Muntari said after the game. “So I went over to him and told him not to do it. I gave him my shirt, to teach him that you’re not supposed to do things like that. I needed to set an example so he grows up to be nice.”
But after the break, the abuse carried on.
When Muntari complained about it to referee Daniele Minelli in the 90th minute and requested that he finally act, the midfielder was apparently given a yellow card for dissent. That’s when Muntari walked off the field, meaning Pescara had to finish the game with 10 men in the absence of the Ghanaian, who joined the club in January.
“[The referee] told me I should not talk to the crowd,” Muntari said. “I asked him if he had heard the insults. I insisted that he must have the courage to stop the game. The referee should not just stay on the field and blow the whistle, he must do everything. He should be aware of these things and set an example. I am not a victim. But if you stop the matches I am convinced that these things won’t happen any more.”
Not only did Muntari not find any understanding in the referee, but his coach Zdenek Zeman wasn’t super supportive either.
“Muntari has abandoned the pitch because of racist chants but we should not take justice into our own hands,” Zeman said. Then he added some half-hearted waffle about how the history of Italian soccer’s racism is bad.
If Zeman seemed insincere about his concern for Muntari’s abuse, and more worried about having to finish the game down a player, he nevertheless made a valid point. Racial abuse has been an issue in Italian soccer for as long as non-white players have appeared there. And it doesn’t seem to be abating.
There’s a protocol now in place for a referee to deal with racial abuse by fans. He is to report it to the fourth official, who in turn consults the match commissioner. That doesn’t seem to have happened with Minelli. And lo, the problem spun out of control yet again, left undealt with.
The solution isn’t so terribly complicated. Serie A, the top Italian league, has more or less solved it, in fact. There is a mechanism there for dealing with this problem, for stopping games and possibly abandoning them. The pieces are all there.
Yet the fact that they aren’t picked up, pieced together and put to use suggests a deeper issue than a lack of resources to address a problem. It says that, in addition to systemic racism, there’s also a problem in failing to recognize that racism is an issue, somehow.
That means Italian soccer has an even bigger fight on its hands than racism alone. And the Muntari incident demonstrated that when this ugliness rears its unsightly head, the racially abused far too often stand alone.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer columnist for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.