Rome: Italy has introduced more flexible sanctions against racism and regional discrimination after ultras threatened to deliberately provoke bans in protest at recent clampdowns.
Inter Milan`s Ultras, the Curva Nord, last week started a campaign inciting all supporters to break rules simultaneously with the intention of having an entire weekend where all the matches would be played behind closed doors.
The Italian federation (FIGC) said in a statement on Wednesday that, from now on, sanctions would be proportional to the number of supporters involved in the racist or discriminatory chanting, rather than automatically imposing partial or blanket closures of stadiums.
The statement said that in less serious cases, bans would be suspended for a period of one year and only implemented if supporters repeated the offence during that period.
Under present rules, racism and discrimination automatically leads to a partial stadium closure for the next game, or full stadium closure depending on the seriousness.
Lazio fans were banned from the north curve at Rome`s Stadio Olimpico for one game for racist chanting in the Supercup match against Juventus in August and Inter Milan suffered the same sanction at the San Siro for racist abuse aimed at Juventus players in September.
There was a new twist when AC Milan were handed a partial stadium closure because of anti-Neapolitan chants, officially described as "expressing discrimination based on territorial origin", during a home Serie A game against Napoli on September 22.
Ultras of both teams, who have long exchanged regional insults during matches, criticised the decision and at their next home games, Napoli fans unfurled a banner which read: "Naples cholera-sufferers. Now close our curva!"
Milan fans then chanted "We are not Neapolitans" at a game against Juventus in Turin on October 6, prompting the FIGC to order them to play their next home match behind closed doors, a decision that was overturned on appeal.
"We have not lowered our guard," said FIGC president Giancarlo Abete. "Otherwise. we would have reinstated the fines before the closure of the stadiums, and allowed for exemptions in the case of mitigating circumstances, and given a different connotation to territorial discrimination. We did not do any of those things."
Maurizio Beretta, the head of Serie A, said the new rules would allow sanctions to be tiered according to how many people were involved in the chanting.
"At the moment, 20 misfits cause 50,000 people to be excluded from a stadium," he told Gazzetta della Sport.
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