Italian football club Lazio will take 200 of its fans to Auschwitz to teach them about anti-Semitism, the club head Claudio Lotito said. The club also announced a plan to read excerpts of Anne Frank's diary at games.
Lazio president Claudio Lotito visited the Rome synagogue on Tuesday to lay a wreath of flowers as a symbolic apology for anti-Semitic incidents linked with the club.
His gesture comes two days after a group of Lazio fans posted anti-Semitic stickers on the Olimpico stadium, including slogans denouncing their bitter rivals from Roma as "Jewish." Most notably, Lazio supporters posted pictures of Anne Frank wearing a Roma shirt.
"This is […] not football, this is not sport. Get anti-Semites out of the stadiums," said chairwoman of Jewish community of Rome, Ruth Dureghello, in a Twitter post.
The club later announced it plans to read excerpt's from Frank's diary ahead of upcoming matches.
Forced into hiding in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam in 1942, Anne Frank later perished in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. The Jewish teen's story became internationally known with the posthumous publication of her diary almost a decade later. It has been translated into over 60 languages and sold over 30 million copies.
Her diary has become one of main symbols of the Holocaust in which an estimated 6 million Jews were murdered.
Club to tackle problem with visit to Auschwitz
The club's management distanced itself from the stickers and anti-Semitic slogans, with Italian politicians and other members of the public condemning the incident.
"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 on Tuesday, while paying his respect to victims of anti-Semitism.
"I announce that Lazio will promote an annual initiative organizing for 200 young fans of Lazio a trip to (the Nazi concentration camp of) Auschwitz, in order to educate them about events that should never be forgotten," Lotito added.
'Auschwitz is your homeland'
The football club would also move against hate speech in various other ways, including visits by players to schools to educate youths on the issue.
"Most of our fans are with us against anti-Semitism," Lotito said.
Anti-Semitism appears to be growing problem among Italian football fans, with members of Lazio's so-called ultras – football hooligans known for fascist sentiment. In 1998, Lazio ultras held up a banner reading "Auschwitz is your homeland, Ovens are Your Homes" during a game against Roma. Some years later, they also displayed a banner saying "Team of Blacks, Crowd of Jews," according to Israel's Haaretz newspaper.
Ultras 'surprised' by outrage
Despite the public outrage, Lazio ultras from the group dubbed "Irriducibili" refused to distance themselves from the latest incident, saying that the stunt should be viewed in "context" of jokes and football rivalry.
"We are surprised by such a response from the media," they said in a statement.
"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."
Both the Rome police and the Italian Football Federation are investigating the incident, which the federation president, Carlo Tavecchio, has called an offense to "all of our country."
dj/kms (AFP, dpa)