Pope Benedict XVI urged football fans to adopt “respect and dialogue” in a message due to be read out on his behalf before a friendly match between Italy and Germany in Florence on Wednesday.
In an extract of the message published by the ANSA news agency, he says: “His Holiness encourages the ongoing common effort for the promotion of a civilisation of love through patient dialogue and reciprocal respect in every area of society.”
The comments came as Spanish club Real Zaragoza was fined $10,750 by the Spanish football federation after its supporters racially taunted Samuel Eto’o , Barcelona’s star striker, during a league match on Saturday.
Spain’s Anti-Violence Commision dismissed the fine as too small and said it reflected neither Zaragoza’s position as a top-division club nor the number of people involved in the chanting.
Eto’o has fought back against
Eto’o, the current African player of the year and the Spanish league’s leading scorer, also expressed his disagreement with the fine saying a tougher line needed to be taken.
The Cameroonian had tried to walk off the pitch as the crowd continued to make monkey noises at him but was persuaded to remain by teammate Ronaldinho, his manager, Frank Rijkaard, and the referee.
Eto’o has repeatedly been the target as racist chanting has increased in stadiums in Spain in the last couple of years.
Critics say the Spanish footballing authorities are not responding firmly enough to the problem.
Atletico Madrid were fined a meagre $715 after their fans threw two bananas at Espanyol’s Cameroonian goalkeeper, Carlos Kameni, whereas players from the second-division club Valladolid were individually fined $595 for revealing T-shirts dedicated to an injured teammate.
Racism has also plagued Italy’s Serie A league in recent times.
In January, Roma fans brandished flags with swastikas, Celtic crosses and pictures of Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini at a Serie A match in the Rome club’s Olympic Stadium, a short distance from the Vatican.
Paolo Di Canio of Rome’s other club, Lazio, was fiercely criticised for making a Nazi salute after scoring a goal during a league game.
Messina defender Marc Zoro, an Ivory Coast international, said last year that he constantly suffers “deplorable” insults because of his colour.
Like Eto’o, Zoro threatened to walk off the pitch if the abuse did not stop during a league game with Inter Milan last November.
The Italian government introduced legislation last year granting the football authorities powers to suspend games if offensive banners or flags are displayed.
Ronaldinho persuaded his friend
However, no match has been suspended so far.
The pope said he appreciated the initiative to combat racial discrimination, which he said would “consolidate awareness of the important educative function of sport in the service of solidarity and peace”.
The football authorities of Italy and Germany dedicated the friendly match in Florence to opposing all forms of racial violence.