Italy Deputy PM Matteo Salvini Downplays Racist Abuse Aimed at Kalidou Koulibaly

Tom Sunderland@@TomSunderland_Featured ColumnistDecember 28, 2018

Italy's Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini (C) gestures after signing the guest book during his visit on December 12, 2018 to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial museum in Jerusalem, which commemorates the six million Jews killed by the German Nazis and their collaborators during World War II. (Photo by MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)        (Photo credit should read MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)

Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini has attempted to downplay racist abuse directed at Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly by a section of Inter Milan fans as "healthy teasing."

Monkey chants could be heard at the San Siro during Napoli's 1-0 defeat, leaving Koulibaly visibly upset before a second caution in the 81st minute saw him sent off. However, in an appearance on Tiki Taka on Thursday (h/t Football Italia), Salvini said:

"I expect answers from the Milan police chiefs, because evidently something didn't work. There were some criminals who came from abroad to sow violence.

"Racism is the stuff of idiots in 2018, but let's not put everything in the same pot. In the stadiums they also sing 'Milan in flames', would that be racism too?

"Bonucci was booed by the Milan fans, is that racism? Healthy teasing among fans is not to be considered racism."

Inter reacted to the incident on Twitter a day after the Boxing Day clash took place and distanced themselves from those who racially abused Koulibaly:

Inter @Inter_en

Since 1908, Inter has represented integration, innovation and progressiveness. The history of Milan is a welcoming one and together we are fighting to build a future without discrimination. Those who do not understand this history do not stand with us. #BrothersOfTheWorld #FCIM https://t.co/lUok3qDgno

The Times reported Italian football authorities have also ordered Inter's next two matches be played behind closed doors in response to events around the match, which included violence between fans that resulted in the death of one man:

B/R Football @brfootball

Serie A have acted after Kalidou Koulibaly was racially abused https://t.co/u1KvDay9mr

BBC News confirmed Inter fan Daniele Belardinelli, 35, who was reportedly one of the club's ultras, had died after being hit by a van near the San Siro on Wednesday, while four Napoli supporters were stabbed. 

The 45-year-old Salvini, who is federal secretary for the Italian far-right group Lega Nord, went on to condemn the violence and said he'd like to see Koulibaly at his club, AC Milan:

"The vast majority of the organised fans [Ultras] are good people, those people yesterday are delinquents, not fans. A fan doesn't go to a stadium with a knife.

"What would I say to Koulibaly? That I'd love to see him in a Milan shirt though, he's very strong."

The politician also felt the stadium ban was unfair on Inter: "I don't understand why the overwhelming majority of Inter fans, good people, have to pay for some criminals who were fighting 2 kilometres away. Criminal responsibility is personal."

It's unlikely Salvini's words will be well received after an outpouring of support for Koulibaly following the game.

Juventus star Cristiano Ronaldo condemned the racist chanting, via ESPN FC:


Cristiano Ronaldo has come out in support of Koulibaly after the Napoli star became subject to racial abuse from Inter Milan fans. 👏 https://t.co/WkHLMEFzGj

Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany followed suit and also referenced the alleged racist abuse suffered by team-mate Raheem Sterling during a game against Chelsea in early December:

Vincent Kompany @VincentKompany

Really!? Koulibaly racially abused at San Siro. Raheem Sterling at Stamford Bridge.. This is unacceptable! Elected politicians set the tone with divisive rhetoric granted but some level of reason has to return! Respect Ancelotti and Napoli teammates for post match comments.

Inter's next game will be at Empoli on Saturday, followed by a two-week break before their next home game, against Benevento in the Coppa Italia on Jan. 13.