France international Samuel Umtiti reportedly left the pitch in tears after he and Lecce teammate Lameck Banda suffered racist abuse from visiting Lazio fans in Italy’s Serie A on Wednesday.
The referee stopped the game in the second half because of racist taunts “coming from the visitor sector occupied by Lazio supporters”, Italian news agency Ansa said.
Cameroon-born defender Umtiti, who won the 2018 World Cup with France and is on loan at Lecce from Barcelona, was the primary target of the abuse.
Lazio fans also hurled racist insults at Zambian international Banda during the first half, Ansa reported.
Lecce president Saverio Sticchi Damiani said that the referee halted the game and after stadium announcers called for the abuse to stop, “Umtiti asked that the match resume”.
The 29-year-old Umtiti left the pitch in tears at the end of the match and also a standing ovation from the Lecce crowd, according to Italian media.
“He wanted to respond on the pitch to the insults. He reacted like a true champion,” newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport quoted Damiani as saying.
Lecce, who won 2-1, afterwards praised their fans for responding to the abuse by chanting Umtiti’s name.
“The racist insults were drowned out by the cheers of encouragement for our champion!” the club said on Twitter, along with the hashtag in English #KeepRacismOut.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino also threw his support behind Umtiti and Banda.
“Let’s shout it loud and clear: NO TO RACISM! May the huge majority of fans, who are good people, stand up to shut up all the racists once and for all!” he wrote in an Instagram post.
This is by no means the first case of racist abuse in Italian football, particularly among clubs that have connections to the country’s far right.
Fascist fan groups are common across Italy. Lazio’s ultras group the “Irriducibili” have hardcore supporters with ties to the extreme right that stretch back to at least the 1970s.