An anti-racism campaign by Serie A that used art showing monkeys drew social media’s ire as well as a bemused response from one of its own clubs on Monday.

Serie A Managing Director Luigi De Servio had presented an anti-racism plan which included the signing of a charter by a player representing each of the 20 Serie A clubs.

The league also displayed a triptych by Italian artist Simone Fugazzotto at its Milan headquarters which showed three monkeys in close-up but with slightly different colours over the basic brown.

It should be noted that Serie A has a big racism problem and Italian stadiums are the scene of recurrent racist incidents, including monkey cries aimed at black players.

However, according to the League, the work “aims to defend the values of integration, multiculturalism and fraternity”.

One of the biggest clubs in the league, Roma, was quick to distance themselves from it.

“AS Roma was very surprised to see what appears to be an anti-racist campaign from Serie A featuring painted monkeys on social media today,” said Roma on their English-language twitter feed. “We understand the league wants to tackle racism but we don’t believe this is the right way to do it.”

FARE, a racism monitoring organisation, called the choice of art a “bad joke”.

“Once again, Italian football leaves the world speechless. In a country in which the authorities fail to deal with racism week after week, Serie A have launched a campaign that looks like a sick joke,” it tweeted.

As criticism began, the league issued a statement saying “true art is provocation.”

Artist Fugazzotto said he almost always paints monkeys, in a variety of artistic styles, usually wearing human clothes and representing different cultures and historical periods.

“I only paint monkeys as a metaphor for human beings,” he said in interviews with the media ahead of the campaign. “We turn the concept back on the racists, as we are all monkeys originally. So, I painted a Western monkey, an Asian monkey and a black monkey.”

But the defence was not enough and the poster was slammed all across Twitter.

Roma had also led the outcry earlier in the month when Italian sports daily Corriere dello Sport ran the front-page headline ‘Black Friday’ to accompany an article about the first Serie A meeting between former Manchester United teammates Romelu Lukaku and Chris Smalling.

The newspaper protested that its headline was being deliberately mis-interpreted and its intention was to “showcase” the players, adding “we will continue to fight racism and ignorance.”

With AFP Inputs