Leading international soccer player Kevin-Prince Boateng, who plays for one of Europe’s top clubs, insists he will walk off in a competitive game if he is subjected to further racist abuse.
European football’s reputation has been tarnished by the scourge of racism this season but on Thursday matters came to head when AC Milan star Boateng kicked the ball into the stand and walked off after a group of fans had directed monkey chants at the Ghanian international and three of his teammates during a friendly match in northern Italy.
“I don’t care what game it is — a friendly, Italian league or Champions League match — I would walk off again,” the German-born Boateng told CNN in an exclusive interview on Friday.
The 25-year-old ripped off his shirt in disgust during the first half of Thursday’s friendly against lower league Italian side Pro Patria, before being joined by his teammates and opposition players in walking off the pitch.
“I’m sad and angry that I’m the one that has to take action,” added the AC Milan midfielder, who has also played in the German and English Premier Leagues during his career.
“All the people who support me would support me in a big game. Players like Rio Ferdinand and Patrick Vieira have supported me and I just want to say thank you.”
Milan, who have won the Italian title 18 times and the European Cup (now known as the Champions League) seven times, were using the friendly to prepare their side for the resumption of the league — Serie A — season after a brief winter break.
During the friendly match, the AC Milan midfielder had told the referee three times he was being abused.
“If it happens again I’m not going to play anymore,” said Boateng, who was born in Berlin. “The referee said: ‘Don’t worry’ but I said I do worry, it’s not very nice.
“I was angry and I was sad, but it all came together and I said I don’t want to play anymore. There were so many negative emotions that came up with me.
“I’m surprised we’re still hearing these things in 2013. It’s not the first time in my life that I’ve heard these things, but I’m 25 now and I’ve had enough this bulls***.”
Several of Boateng’s teammates — M’Baye Niang, Urby Emanuelson and Sulley Muntari — were also targeted by the monkey chanting fans.
“I think we should not say all the time that we didn’t hear it, or go home and say I didn’t hear nothing,” said Boateng, explaining why he decided to walk off.
“We have to stop, look, and open our eyes. It was 100% racist and had nothing to do with football; it had nothing to do with our team playing against them like a rivalry and that is why I acted like that.”
Italian prosecutors will press charges of inciting racial hatred against at least one person over the abuse that was directed at the Milan players.
Police and stadium cameras have identified a 20-year-old man and prosecutors expect more people will face charges, prosecutor Mirko Monti told CNN.
And Boateng called on football’s regulators to take a stronger stance in combating racism.
“There are so many people, FIFA or whatever, that can do something against this. They should wake up and do it.
“If there is a racism those people should be banned from the stadium forever. They should not even enter the stadium anymore. Never again. That’s the first thing they can do.
“We have to open our eyes, open our ears, listen to everything, see everything, and react on that.”
Earlier Milan club president Silvio Berlusconi and former Italian Prime Minister had warned that the Serie A team will leave the pitch if they are faced with further anti-social behavior.
Berlusconi has already called Boateng to congratulate him on his stance in the Pro Patria friendly.
The Italian Football Association is also to investigate the incident.
“No sanction or measure can erase the disdain for an unspeakable and intolerable episode,” said president of the Italian FA Giancarlo Abete in a statement.
“We must react with force and without silence to isolate the few criminals that transformed a friendly match into an uproar that offends all of Italian football.”
This season matches across Europe have been punctuated by repeated outbursts of racism.
Ahead of the European Championship finals in Poland and Ukraine last summer, UEFA president Michel Platini had urged players to allow the referee to deal with the problem of racist abuse, and stressed that officials could stop games if necessary.
Boateng spent a sleepless night after his walkout, but promised to carry on his campaign to highlight the abuse he could experience in the future.
“I love the game so much that I would never quit football because of some stupid people.”
After playing at youth level for Germany, Boateng decided to represent Ghana.
During the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Boateng featured for Ghana in group game against Germany, with his brother Jerome playing for the European side in their 1-0 win.