SSC Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly and Italian FA general secretary Michele Uva talk of the importance of inclusion and diversity in football to schoolchildren in Milan.
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Around 800 students gathered at the Liceo Agnesi school in Milan to talk about diversity during a forum organised by SSC Napoli. The event coincided with UEFA’s #EqualGame campaign, which looks to promote inclusion, diversity and accessibility in football.
The forum lasted for 90 minutes, and just like a game of football, was split into two 45-minute halves. During the ‘first half’, SSC Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly took to the floor, while the second 45 minutes was dedicated to the students, who were able to tell their stories regarding discrimination and were able to ask questions to the hosts.
“This forum is dedicated to you, the young people, the next generation,” said Nicola Lombardo, SSC Napoli’s director of communications. "When UEFA launched this amazing campaign and asked for support from clubs, I raised my hand immediately."
In February 2016, during a match between SS Lazio and SSC Napoli at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, Koulibaly asked the referee to stop the game following repeated monkey chanting from a group of fans whenever the Senegal international touched the ball.
"With the help of my team-mates we talked to the referee and we asked to stop the game," Koulibaly recalled.
The following week Napoli fans expressed a show of solidarity with Koulibaly, wearing masks depicting the defender.
"It was very touching because they were all backing me. It’s a memory that will always stay with me," he said. "It’s not easy when you are alone, but I remember also SS Lazio players coming to talk to me during that game. It shows that we have to be together, united when fighting discrimination."
Koulibaly also talked about the problem of slavery in Libya and said that he has seen improvements in Italian football since he first arrived from KRC Genk in 2014.
"Incidents of discrimination have decreased by 75% since 2011 in Italian football, but there is still plenty of work to do," said Michele Uva, the general secretary of the Italian Football Association (FIGC) and UEFA vice president. "After families and school, sport is the third step in the fight against discrimination. It is up to you, the students, to promote this message and make your voices heard."
"The colour of a person’s skin must have the same importance of the colour of a person’s eyes in the future," Damiano Tommasi, president of the Italian Footballers' Association, said. "I’m confident this will be the case for our next generation."
SSC Napoli’s vice president Eduardo De Laurentis wrapped up the forum, which was enjoyed by everyone, saying: "We are in 2018. Together we can beat discrimination and overcome the bullies."