Last month, Inter fans subjected Kalidou Koulibaly to the kind of racist taunts that have no place in today’s society. During the game with Napoli at San Siro, the defender was repeatedly targeted by the Nerazzurri supporters in the Curva Nord, with their own club moving swiftly to condemn the behavior which gathered worldwide attention.
“Together with our city, we have always been fighting to help create a future free of discrimination,” read a statement posted on Inter’s official website immediately following that match. “From that night 110 years ago when our founders set us on our journey, we have always said no to any form of discrimination. That is why we feel obliged today, once again, to reiterate that anyone who does not understand or accept our history – this club’s history – is not one of us.”
It was never going to be enough, and the club were rightly punished by Italy’s footballing authorities, ordered to play two matches behind closed doors and then a third with the Curva empty. Anti-discrimination organization Fare acknowledged that decision, issuing a statement of their own which called the ruling “a clear signal” but went on to add that “it is not enough, so much more still remains to be done to stop the rot at the heart of Italian football.”
Inter clearly agreed, as their CEO Alessandro Antonello explained in an exclusive interview with FloFC.
“Following the unfortunate incidents that took place during the game with Napoli on Dec. 26, the club immediately wanted to show its complete disassociation from the actions of a few mindless so-called fans,” he said. “The following day we met internally and with a full support of our president Steven Zhang, decided that we needed to demonstrate a strong positive reaction against all forms of discrimination.”
Taking the jeers that were showered upon Koulibaly, Inter proposed that the word “BUU” – the Italian translation of “BOO!” – was changed into a positive acronym standing for “Brothers Universally United.” They posted the video above on social media, with Zhang joined by club captain Mauro Icardi, vice president Javier Zanetti, captain Mauro Icardi and other iconic former players urging fans to “write it, don’t say it.”
“It’s a changeover from negative to positive,” said President Zhang in an accompanying press release. “The only way to involve everyone is to focus directly on the problem, setting ourselves out in a strong and direct manner. Our fans are special and they deserve a type of football that promotes positive and inclusive values. This campaign wants to be a solid tool against all forms of discrimination and one that strongly reaffirms the values that Inter have identified themselves with for almost 111 years.”
They also refused the chance to appeal the punishment levied against them, instead requesting that — after playing against Benevento in an empty stadium — that 10,000 young girls and boys from the Nerazzurri Scuole Calcio and Centro Sportivo Italiano would be allowed to attend the game against Sassuolo, scheduled for Jan. 19.
The Italian FA sanctioned that request, much to the delight of Inter winger Keita Balde.
“There will always be ignorant people because not everyone has the same education,” the Senegal international told Sky Italia. “But if they don’t learn as children then they won’t learn when they’re 30 or 40 years of age.”
That belief was also held by the opposition, with a number of Sassuolo players speaking out in support of the effort they had seen.
“The initiative from Inter against racism is very important, as it sends a message to everyone on an issue that is not good for sport,” Ghanaian midfielder Alfred Duncan said shortly before the San Siro clash got underway. “The club is dealing with the situation well, because those who insult are just a minority. I hope the kids will have fun and enjoy this opportunity.”
It certainly seemed as if that were the case, but for Inter it was about much more than providing entertainment.
“We hope that such a strong and positive anti-discrimination campaign will have the effect of not only silencing the very small minority that persist in such behavior, but also that we can send a clear message to the whole of Italian football,” club CEO Alessandro Antonello told FloFC. “We need to eradicate all forms of discrimination at football grounds.”
While that may feel a long way away from happening, the efforts of Inter were certainly a positive step in the right direction, even if they are fully aware of the work that is still to be done.
“Although very occasional, unfortunately such behavior is not only present at the San Siro but also at other stadia in Italy,” Antonello continued. “While we are not in favor of closing stadia — which punishes all fans for the behavior of a minority — we hope that through our ‘BUU’ campaign, and thanks to the educational work we conduct on a regular basis in local schools, we can educate the future generation of fan and help eradicate all forms of discrimination from San Siro.”
It certainly will not be easy, but while the initial incident was both unforgivable and outrageously sad, at least Inter have moved to take a positive stance and make a difference for the next generation of supporters.
Adam Digby is an Italian football writer for FourFourTwo, The Independent, and elsewhere. Author of "Juventus: A History In Black & White." Follow Adam on Twitter.