Boateng hailed a hero as he leads AC Milan racism walk-off
Protest 'has done more to tackle racism in one day than Uefa has managed in decades'
AC MILAN footballer Kevin Prince Boateng is being hailed as a hero today after taking a direct stand against racism by walking off the pitch during a friendly match in Italy.
The former Tottenham and Portsmouth midfielder was subjected to abuse by a small section of the crowd as AC Milan took on fourth-tier side Pro Patria on Thursday afternoon. The Ghanaian international responded to the racist chants by stopping play, picking up the ball and kicking it into the stands before marching off the field.
"Boateng removed his shirt and walked," wrote Amy Lawrence in The Guardian. "Spontaneously – and this is also significant – applause broke out from the majority of the crowd. Boateng put his shirt around his neck and applauded back. In that moment, there was recognition that his act of defiance was beyond question."
As Milan captain Massimo Ambrosini led the other players off the pitch it became clear that they, too, were backing Boateng, and Daily Telegraph football writer Henry Winter commented on Twitter: "Kevin-Prince Boateng and AC Milan have done more to tackle racism in one day than Uefa has in 58 years."
Fellow professionals also took to Twitter, with Rio Ferdinand and Michael Owen among those who posted messages of support for Boateng.
As the Telegraph later reported: "Uefa has repeatedly been criticised for its failure to take a tougher stance on racism. The governing body even threatened to book any player who walked off the pitch in response to racist chanting at the European Championship last summer."
It added that yesterday's events were significant because, "although players have threatened to walk off in the past, it is the first time an entire team has left the pitch and halted a game".
According to Oliver Holt in the Daily Mirror there was "something inspiring and uplifting about what Boateng did, something that gave cause for optimism". Uefa, he argued, had offered only "paltry fines, empty gestures and a few more advertising slogans paying lip-service to anti-racism."
After the match was abandoned Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri responded to claims that the walk-off was a stunt in a meaningless friendly during the Italian winter break by saying he hoped his players would take the same action in bigger games.
"He's probably telling the truth," commented Gabrielle Marcotti in The Times. "A club such as Milan do not take a stance like this willy-nilly. Nor would they make such an important pledge without first getting the lie of the land."
He noted that the policy also turns the tables on Uefa, which has threatened to punish clubs for taking unilateral action. "In terms of public relations - needless to say - punishing a team for walking off after they’ve been racially abused would be disastrous for Uefa and counter-productive."
Boateng's actions were even noted in America. The Nation said that racism in the stands has become "a normal feature of European soccer", but added that "in one moment of fury, the page may finally be turning on this ugly state of affairs".