Images of Anne Frank wearing a Roma jersey were among the anti-Semitic stickers and graffiti left by soccer fans of crosstown rival Lazio, and discovered at the teams' shared stadium in Rome on Monday.
It was the latest in a long line of racist or anti-Semitic incidents involving Lazio supporters.
The northern curva (end) of the Stadio Olimpico where Lazio’s “ultra” fans sit was closed on Sunday for its match with Cagliari due to racist chanting during a match against Sassuolo earlier this month.
As a result, Lazio decided to open the southern end and let its ultras sit where Roma’s hard-core fans sit for their home matches. Stadium cleaners found the anti-Semitic stickers a day later.
The Italian football federation is likely to open an investigation, which could result in a full stadium ban for Lazio.
“There are no justifications. These incidents must be met with disapproval, without any ifs, ands or buts,” Sports Minister Luca Lotti said. “I’m sure that the responsible authorities will shed light on what happened and that those responsible will quickly be identified and punished.”
By Tuesday, most of Italy's newspapers were covering the story, with La Repubblica even writing a dedicating editorial called "We are all Anne Frank."
Claudio Lotito, the owner and president of Lazio, laid a wreath of white and blue flowers – the color of both the team and the State of Israel – outside the Great Synagogue of Rome in a sign of good faith to the local Jewish community. He also said the club would send 200 youths every year on visits to Auschwitz, as part of a bid to aid Holocaust educational efforts.
Lazio’s ultras have long been known for their far-right political stances and fascist leanings. During a 1998 derby, Lazio ultras held up a banner directed at their Roma counterparts that read, “Auschwitz Is Your Country; the Ovens Are Your Homes.”
A few years later, during another Rome derby, Lazio ultras unfurled another banner aimed at Roma fans, stating: "Team of Blacks, Crowd of Jews."
And in 2005, one of Lazio's most famous players, Paolo Di Canio, was fined and suspended after giving a straight-arm salute to Lazio fans. He defended his actions by saying, "I'm a fascist, not a racist."
The latest partial stadium ban stemmed from derogatory racist chants directed at visiting Sassuolo players Claud Adjapong and Alfred Duncan.
“This is not a curva, this is not football, this is not sport. Keep the anti-Semites out of the stadiums,” tweeted Ruth Dureghello, the president of Rome’s Jewish community.
“Dureghello is right,” added Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi.
Lazio will also be without fans in the northern end when Udinese visits on November 5, as it was also decided to apply a sanction that had been conditionally suspended for racist chanting during the Rome derby in April.
Also this season, Lazio beat Belgian side Zulte Waregem 2-0 in a Europa League match behind closed doors due to punishment from UEFA for racist chants aimed at a Sparta Prague player in the Roman side’s last continental appearance, two seasons ago.
The club promoted an anti-racism initiative for the Cagliari game, saying it was up to other fans to educate the offending supporters until their “ignorance and lack of respect for the most elementary rules of coexistence disappear once and for all from our stadium.”
The racist and anti-Semitic incidents are obscuring a surprisingly positive season for Lazio on the pitch.
The Roman team beat Cagliari 3-0 for its fourth straight win and is now fourth in the standings, level on points with six-time defending champion Juventus, which it recently beat 2-1.
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