Napoli pull out of ‘token’ anti-racism initiatives after InterMilan’s Acerbi cleared of racial abuse

March 27 – Inter Milan defender Francesco Acerbi has been cleared of a charge of racially insulting Napoli’s Juan Jesus in a Serie A game because there wasn’t enough proof, an Italian football league judge has ruled.

Judge Gerardo Mastrandrea said an investigation had failed to reach “the minimum level of reasonable certainty as to the discriminatory content of the offence.”

The alleged incident on March 17 was revealed when Jesus told the referee Acerbi directed a racial slur at him. Acerbi has repeatedly denied he used the offensive word.

The Italian FA prosecutor questioned the players and witnesses last week and reported to the judge, who also studied images from the match, as well as audio from the referee and VAR, before announcing the judgement.

Napoli called Tuesday’s decision “astonishing”.

“Napoli will no longer take part in anti-racism and anti-discrimination initiatives run by football institutions that are merely symbolic, but we will continue to organise them ourselves, as we have always done, with renewed conviction and determination,” the club said in a statement.

Had Acerbi been found guilty, he would have faced a minimum 10-match ban that would have ruled the Italy international out of the rest of the season and most likely the European Championship. He was part of the Italy squad that won Euro 2020 although he didn’t play in the quarter-final, semi-final or final.

The 36-year-old could have also faced further sanctions from his own club, which was reportedly considering cutting ties with the player if he was found guilty.

Jesus, a 32-year-old Brazilian, was visibly upset when he walked up to the referee during the second half at San Siro and was also pointing at his shirt sleeve which had a ‘Keep Racism Out’ badge — as part of the league’s anti-racism campaign.

Acerbi was sent home from the Italy training camp the next day ahead of friendlies against Venezuela and Ecuador although coach Luciano Spalletti and the players apparently agreed “there was no defamatory, denigrating or racist intent on his part.”

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