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Italy struggles to condemn racism, deep concerns in England

LONDON (AP) — Marcus Rashford felt exasperated to be spending the night before an England game discussing soccer's racism problem. But he was determined to do so, to ensure one day he won't have to. "For these issues to be coming up all the time," the England and Manchester United forward said on Friday, "it feels a bit strange to me, and I think the minute we can sort the situation out, the better it'll be for everyone."

Rashford had spent three minutes listening to his coach, Gareth Southgate, previewing England's European Championship qualifier against Bulgaria on Saturday when the news conference turned to questions on racism.

For the next 15 minutes inside Wembley Stadium, the scar on the game was the main topic under discussion. From the abuse players, including Rashford, have faced on social media to the monkey chants hurled at Inter Milan striker Romelu Lukaku in Italy.

"It seems to me like things have been going backwards rather than forwards," Rashford said. "I've always said that the more we speak about it, it doesn't have much of an impact. We've tried. "There's been examples everywhere where people have spoken out and I wouldn't say they've been ignored, but nothing has really changed. So, just to see it spike in the last couple of months, it's been unbelievable, so we want to just nip it in the bud while it's happening."

There was a torrent of racially abusive tweets posted within seconds of Rashford missing a penalty for United last month. "It is too easy to do what you like on the internet and any of us now can go on and create accounts and write what we want under anyone's post and no one would ever know," Rashford said. "It's easier to sort of figure it out if you have to show identification to create an account. That means everybody can only have one account."

Rashford was speaking hours after English Football Association president Prince William expressed his concerns about racism in the national game. "We've got to do something about it," the second in line for the British throne said. "I'm fed up with it. I'm so bored of it."

Others, though, are not so willing to speak out to condemn racism. Lukaku, Rashford's United teammate before joining Inter last month, discovered that this week. After monkey noises were directed at Lukaku at Cagliari, a group of Inter's own "ultra" fans defended rival supporters over their own player.

"We understand that it could have seemed racist to you," the fan group "L'Urlo della Nord" — translated to "Scream of the North" — said, "but it is not like that." The statement demonstrated the scale of the task faced ensuring Italy takes eradicating racism seriously.

Chris Smalling, who followed Lukaku from United by joining Roma, has concerns as a black player. "There needs to be a change, there will be generational changes and younger people will have a different perspective," Smalling said at his introductory news conference on Friday. "But it does happen, not just in Italy but around the world, and it is very sad and unacceptable that it still happens in these modern times."

Cagliari fans have a history of racism, targeting Moise Kean, Blaise Matuidi and Sulley Muntari with offensive chants in recent seasons. Inter was yet to condemn the abuse of Lukaku by Friday night, despite being asked for comment on Monday. And despite the video evidence, the Italian league's disciplinary judge said he needs more evidence before deciding if Cagliari should be punished for the racist chants.

League judge Gerardo Mastrandrea did not even mention the word "racist" in his weekly report on Tuesday, referring only to "chants that were the subject of news articles and TV reports." FIFA, whose president Gianni Infantino supports Inter, was careful not to directly discuss the club or Italy when asked about Lukaku.

"FIFA condemns in the strongest terms such incident," the world governing body said in a statement to The Associated Press. "Racism has no place in football." Even the European Club Association, which is led by Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli, gave a generic response that did not name Lukaku after being asked to comment on Inter's response.

"ECA as an organization condemns discrimination in all its forms and has recently adopted a statutory objective to promote inclusion and diversity in football," the umbrella body representing clubs told the AP. "ECA encourages all football stakeholders to take any and all appropriate measures to stamp out racism."

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