Serie A introduces anti-racism campaign using controversial monkey artwork

The trio of paintings from Simone Fugazzotto, an artist renowned for using primates in his work, which will be displayed permanently at Serie A's headquarters.

The artwork is apparently part of a new initiative using cultural, sporting and "repressive" measures to tackle racism.   -  Twitter/AC Milan

Lega Serie A has caused controversy with its use of monkey artwork as part of a new anti-racism initiative.

Italy's top flight launched a new campaign on Monday to combat what CEO Luigi De Siervo described as "the evil" that "ruins" football.

The symbolic heart of the new three-pronged initiative is a trio of paintings from Simone Fugazzotto, an artist renowned for using primates in his work, which will be displayed permanently at Lega Serie A's headquarters in Milan.

Those behind the campaign were accused of insensitivity by social media users given the continued incidents of black footballers being subjected to monkey chants as a form of racial abuse.

However, Fugazzotto insists the work - comprising close-ups of three apes described as being western, Asian and black, with different coloured markings around the eyes - is designed to highlight the stupidity of prejudice based on skin colour.

"For an artist, there is nothing more important than trying to change the perception of things through his own work," said Fugazzotto, who wrote on Instagram that he was inspired to act after Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly was racially abused in a match against Inter last year.

"I've tried to say that we are complex and fascinating creatures, that we can be sad or happy, Catholics, Muslims or Buddhists, but that, after all, it is our actions that determine who we are, not the colour of our skin."

 

He added to reporters: "I decided to portray monkeys to talk about racism because they are the metaphor of being human.

"I thought I'd create this work to teach everyone that we're all monkeys. The monkey becomes the spark to teach everyone that there is no difference. We are all alike."

De Siervo explained the artwork formed part of a three-tiered new initiative using cultural, sporting and "repressive" measures to tackle racism.

Along with future artwork and school programmes, all 20 Serie A teams have been asked to sign an anti-racism charter and put forward representatives for an official body to combat racial prejudice.

There will also be extra security cameras using facial-recognition software added to stadiums to help police identify abusers, and a Serie A task force established to champion "social responsibility".

"Sport, football most of all, is an extraordinary tool for conveying positive messages of fair play and of tolerance," said De Siervo. "Simone's paintings fully reflect these values and will remain on show in our headquarters.

"The league's commitment against all forms of prejudice is strong and concrete. We know racism is an endemic and very complex problem, which we will tackle on three levels: the cultural level, through works such as Simone's; the sporting level, with a series of initiatives alongside clubs and players; and the repressive level, thanks to collaboration with police.

"Acting simultaneously on these three different levels, we are sure we will succeed in winning the most important game against the evil that ruins the most beautiful sport in the world."

 

Italian football has often been encouraged to take stronger action against racism following several high-profile incidents.

This season, Brescia striker Mario Balotelli kicked a ball into the stands after being subjected to racist taunts in a match against Hellas Verona, while monkey chants were aimed at Romelu Lukaku in Inter's win at Cagliari.

Hellas was ordered to close part of its stadium for one game, while an ultra who defended the chants against Balotelli was banned for 11 years, but Cagliari escaped punishment.

Newspaper Corriere dello Sport also caused controversy last month by building up to Roma's match against Inter using an image of Lukaku and Chris Smalling on the front page with the headline 'Black Friday'.

Smalling and Lukaku were among those to condemn the publication, while clubs including Milan and Roma banned it from their facilities for the rest of the year, but the paper responded by accusing critics of the "lynching of a newspaper that has been fighting for freedom and equality for over a century".

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