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By Harry Noad
AC Milan’s Kevin-Prince Boateng made headlines this week with his walk-off against Pro Patria last Thursday. The final straw came in the 25th minute of a friendly which had been inundated with racist chanting from the first five minutes. His actions have prompted a global response from the footballing world, but some have asked whether such a reaction was appropriate.
Milan legend Clarence Seedorf admitted that the Ghana midfielder’s walk was ‘a signal’, but went on to say that footballers are merely ‘empowering that little group (of racist supporters)’ with their actions. Boateng may have stopped the abuse at this particular game, but he also ended the spectacle for genuine fans. In the wake of such overwhelming support for his gesture, some have joined Seedorf in asking if his is an example that should be adopted on a mass scale.
Boateng’s principle is certainly admirable, and football indisputably needs a no-tolerance policy on racism in all of its myriad forms. Troublemakers will continue to wreak havoc until they are brought to justice, and it seems that Milan have set quite the precedent for future offenses. It seems likely that Italian football fans will become familiar with walk-offs in the near future, for better or for worse, as players follow Boateng’s example.
Granted, his walk was not the first of its ilk, but it has brought a potential solution into the public eye. Cameroonian striker Samuel Eto’o famously begun to walk-off the pitch following abuse at Real Zaragoza during his Barcelona days, only to be persuaded to continue by Frank Rijkaard, his teammates and the referee. For Boateng, no such persuasion came, and the support of his fellow players and the club as a whole played a huge part in making this particular protest so powerful. AC Milan is a big team, and Boateng a big player. Few recall Messina’s Marc Zoro storming off against Inter back in 2005, in which, again, fellow players (including Nigerian forward Obafemi Martins) were the impetus behind the continuation of the game, but this surely will not be so quickly forgotten by the footballing community.
Football must embrace the walk-off as a powerful tool against the bigots that have blighted the beautiful game for too long. Of course, the well-behaved majority will suffer in such instances, but perhaps such frustration will manifest itself in the outing of racists by the public themselves. Until these figures are rightly ostracised for their actions, they will continue to believe they can get away with it. Seedorf’s points ring true, but if identification of racists is tightened up, then they can easily be kicked out of stadia worldwide, with the match continuing inside. Clubs, authorities and fans alike must band together for a greater cause, one which Milan have done well to defend.