In response to an anti-Semitic incident that saw a small group of fans of Lazio, one of Italy’s top teams, use Anne Frank’s visage to troll a rival team, Italian soccer’s governing body has ordered a passage from “The Diary of Anne Frank” be read aloud before all games in the coming week.
The decision “to condemn the recent episodes of anti-Semitism and to continue to remember the Holocaust” was reached in conjunction with the country’s sports minister, as well as the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, a statement posted by the Italian soccer federation Tuesday said.
It added: “[We want] to continue to cultivate the memory of the Holocaust as well as show all of civil society, especially young people, our commitment to creating sporting environments that transmit good values and consciences.”
Games played in Italy’s top three leagues, Serie A, Serie B and Serie C, as well as amateur and youth games, are expected to participate in the memorial by reading aloud the following passage, written by Frank, a Holocaust victim, on July 15, 1944: “I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more.”
The memorial was sparked after stadium workers discovered stickers that depicted a doctored image of Frank wearing a Roma jersey on Monday. The stickers were discovered a day after Lazio squared off on Sunday against Cagliari in a Serie A match at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico, the home stadium it shares with Roma. The stickers were found in an area of the stadium that housed Lazio’s most hardcore supporters, or “ultras,” who have been condemned through the years for their racist and anti-Semitic actions.
The ultras were banned from their usual section in the stadium’s northern end for Sunday’s match after they directed racist chants at black Sassuolo players Claud Adjapong and Alfred Duncan during an Oct. 1 match (it also will be closed during a match against Udinese on Nov. 5). But the team let the ultras sit in the stadium’s southern end, where Roma’s hardcore fans sit for their home matches, and the stickers were found there. Now, Italian soccer officials are likely to open an investigation, which could result in a full-stadium ban for Lazio fans. The police are also investigating the incident, the BBC reports, which has sparked wide condemnation both within the league and beyond.
“There are no justifications. These incidents must be met with disapproval, without any ifs, ands or buts,” Italian Sports Minister Luca Lotti said, per the Associated Press. “I’m sure that the responsible authorities will shed light on what happened and that those responsible will quickly be identified and punished.”
Meanwhile, Rome’s Jewish community leader Ruth Dureghello condemned the incident on social media, noting, “This is not soccer, this is not sport. Anti-Semites out of the stadiums.”
Lazio executives also expressed their disappointment and regret over the incident. On Tuesday, Lazio team president Claudio Lotito laid a wreath of white and blue flowers — the team’s colors — outside the Great Synagogue of Rome. According to Italy’s La Repubblica, Lotito announced that the team would send 200 youths to Auschwitz every year to educate them about the Holocaust.
“I am here to express our total dissociation towards all xenophobia, racism, anti-Semitism,” Lotito said ahead of the announcement.
He added: “The vast majority of Lazio fans are anti-racist and against any form of anti-Semitism.”
To enhance his point, perhaps, the team announced later on Tuesday the team’s players would sport shirts depicting Anne Frank ahead of their away game against Bologna FC at Renato Dall’Ara Stadium on Wednesday.
The shirts, the team said in a statement posted to its website, are the team’s way of “demonstrating the club’s commitment to fighting all forms of racism and anti-Semitism.”
Lazio’s ultras have long put an unwanted spotlight on the team. Lazio already has played in an empty stadium once this season, on Sept. 28 against Belgian club Zulte Waregem in a UEFA Europa League match. That sanction was handed down by UEFA, European soccer’s governing body, over racist chants directed at a Sparta Prague player two years ago in Lazio’s previous Europa League appearance.
Lazio fans have long been known for their racist and anti-Semitic behavior. During a 1998 game against hated rival Roma, the club’s fans held up a banner that read, “Auschwitz Is Your Country; the Ovens Are Your Homes.” Another banner, unfurled during a game against Roma in 2000, read “Squad of blacks, terrace of Jews,” a reference to their opponent’s black players and the alleged ethnic makeup of Roma fans.
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