MILAN, Italy (AFP) — Lazio soccer club president Claudio Lotito said Tuesday the team would take 200 fans every year to visit Auschwitz after images of Holocaust victim Anne Frank were used to offend hated rivals Roma.
Lotito made the announcement as he visited the Rome Synagogue two days after Lazio fans posted stickers of Frank in a Roma jersey alongside anti-Semitic slogans during a Serie A game at the Stadio Olimpico.
“Most of our fans are with us against anti-Semitism,” said Lotito as he brought a floral wreath to remember all victims of anti-Semitism.
He explained that Lazio would also be undertaking a series of initiatives such as visits by players to schools to educate on respecting rules and stamping out racism and social barriers.
“Today we intend to reaffirm our position once again with this clear and unequivocal gesture — no one can use Lazio in this way,” said Lotito.
Sources close to the Jewish Community of Rome welcomed the idea of visiting Auschwitz as “positive and confirms that in addition to the gesture, there is a need for concrete initiatives concerning the world of football, sport and government.”
The photos and stickers of Frank — the Jewish teenager who died in Nazi concentration camp Bergen-Belsen in 1945 — were stuck on glass barriers during the 3-0 win over Cagliari and were discovered by staff after the game.
The incident led to widespread condemnation with Italian president Sergio Mattarella deploring the use of an image of Frank, whose “story of suffering and death by Nazi barbarians moved the world.”
“Using her image as an insult and threat, as well as being inhumane, is alarming for our country which suffered 80 years ago from the cruelty of anti-Semitism.”
Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni added: “It is something incredible, unacceptable, not to be minimized and not to be underestimated. We do not underestimate the risks of tension spreading through our social fabric.”
Meanwhile, European Parliament chief Antonio Tajani condemned the use of Frank’s photo “to offend the fans of another team.”
“The Jewish communities are part of our Union,” Tajani said in Strasbourg. “I’m proud of having fellow Jewish citizens.”
“Anti-Semitism must remain just a horrible experience of our past, an experience for the last century that has come to an end.”
Rome police and the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) are probing the incidents, which FIGC president Carlo Tavecchio said “offend a community and all of our country.”
But Lazio’s Irriducibili fan group refused to distance themselves, stating they were surprised by the furor.
“We are surprised by such a response from the media,” a statement read. “Everything should be mitigated by the context. There have been other cases which, in our opinion, should deserve much more attention by newspapers and TV.
“We don’t distance ourselves from what we’ve done, we simply wonder why nobody takes our side when we are the victims of these alleged incidents. We wonder why nobody talked about our initiatives to remember the victims of terrorism. We think these moves are oriented to block and boycott Lazio’s growth, as they’re one of the best Serie A teams.”
Bitter city rivals Roma and Lazio will meet in the Roman derby on November 18.