Pope tells footballers: reject racism

Pope Benedict XVI issued a message against racism in soccer at the World Cup warm-up match between Italy and Germany on Wednesday night.

The message by the German-born Pontiff was read out by a local clergyman on the pitch at the stadium in Florence before kickoff.

"(The Vatican) expresses its appreciation for the initiatives against racial discrimination, promoted to strengthen the understanding of sport's important educating role in service of solidarity and peace," the message read.

The Pope also called for "patient dialogue" and "reciprocal respect".

It came a day after Spain's football federation fined Real Zaragoza 9,000 euros ($10,750) for its fans' racial abuse of Barcelona's Cameroon striker Samuel Eto'o and after several racist and pro-fascist displays by fans and players in Italy.

In November, Marc Zoro, Ivory Coast defender for Serie A side Messina, picked up the ball and threatened to walk off the pitch because of racist chants from Inter Milan fans.

In Italy, it is not uncommon for some fans to make "monkey" noises when black players from rival teams take the ball.

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3 Mar 2006