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Italian referees instructed to send off players for making racist comments

The Italian referee association announced the results of a few rule changes today. Most are just tweaks to the existing setup... but there's one whopper of a change that could have a pronounced effect on the game.

Martin Rose

Racism in Italy has long been a problem, both in football and the country at large. Every year there's a multitude of incidents during and around matches, and clubs are sanctioned for the actions of their players, fans, and staff because of racist words uttered in public.

It's even embroiled the process for electing a new FIGC president, with leading candidate Carlo Tavecchio watching his support come apart in the wake of a racist statement to the press last week. Needless to say, Italy doesn't have the best recent history when it comes to racism.

Now, though, some effort it being made to fix that. The AIA, Italy's referee association, announced several rules changes today, including something that could have a major effect on the football landscape: they've issued a directive to their referees that if they hear any player utter a racist phrase or term for any reason, that player is to be red-carded and sent off immediately.

It's a big change, and one that some have wondered why it took so long to happen. There's also been a fair amount of skepticism expressed that Italian referees will just pretend that they heard nothing and carry on. AIA representative Domenico Messina says otherwise, however.

"You can see the difference between the AIA and the other [Italian football] institutions," Messina told the press. "We accept the rules because then we have to impose them on others." Italian referees have confronted players over racism in the past, and now they have much more authority to actually do something about.

The spectre of player-on-player racism has reared its head again recently, after an incident involving AS Roma's Seydou Keita and Real Madrid's Pepe. Pepe was seen spitting on Keita's back after Keita snubbed him in the handshake line, to which Keita responded by throwing his water bottle in Pepe's face before pushing and shoving broke out. Keita revealed after the match that Pepe had repeatedly called Keita a monkey while the Malian midfielder was with Barcelona.

Hopefully with this new rule in place, such incidents will quickly become a thing of the past. Naturally it won't help racial abuse from the stands, but every little bit helps, and hopefully without players serving as an example, such incidents will also go away eventually. Racism has no place in football or society at large, and hopefully before much longer Italy (and the world as a whole) will be free of it.