Serie A’s decision to use three paintings of monkeys to illustrate a campaign to stamp out racism has been branded “a sick joke”.
The paintings are intended to “spread the values of integration, multiculturalism and brotherhood” and will be on permanent display at the entrance to the Serie A headquarters in Milan, the league said in a statement.
They were painted by artist Simone Fugazzotto, who is known for producing work focused almost entirely on apes.
The league unveiled the project on Monday, although it was originally commissioned for the Coppa Italia final between Lazio and Atalanta last May.
Italian football has been blighted by monkey chants and other incidents of racist abuse this season.
Anti-discrimination organisation Fare network said on Twitter: “Once again Italian football leaves the world speechless.
“In a country in which the authorities fail to deal with racism week after week #SerieA have launched a campaign that looks like a sick joke.
“These creations are an outrage, they will be counter-productive and continue the dehumanisation of people of African heritage.
“It is difficult to see what Serie A was thinking, who did they consult?
“It is time for the progressive clubs in the league to make their voice heard.”
Former England striker Stan Collymore tweeted: “Fantastic to see Serie A anti racism campaign posters (yes, it’s really real).
“Maybe get the mascots to Black up as a finishing touch.”
Fugazzotto said he “decided to portray monkeys to talk about racism because they are the metaphor for human beings”.
He added on the Serie A website: “I’ve always been painting monkeys for five to six years, so I thought I’d make this work to teach that we’re all apes.
“I made the western monkey with blue and white eyes, the Asian monkey with almond-shaped eyes and the black monkey positioned in the centre, where everything comes from.
“The monkey becomes the spark to teach everyone that there is no difference, there is no man or monkey, we are all alike. If anything we are all monkeys.”
Serie A chief executive Luigi De Siervo called football “an extraordinary tool for conveying positive messages, fair play and tolerance” and said Fugazzotto’s paintings “fully reflect these values”.
He said: “We know that racism is an endemic and very complex problem, which we will tackle on three different levels – the cultural one, through works like that of Simone, the sporting one, with a series of initiatives together with clubs and players, and the repressive one, thanks to the collaboration with the police.
“By acting simultaneously on these three different levels we are sure that we will be able to win the most important game against the evil that ruins the most beautiful sport in the world.”
Serie A club Roma later tweeted a statement expressing surprise at the league’s approach.
“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,” read the tweet.
“We understand the league wants to tackle racism but we don’t believe this is the right way to do it.”
Two weeks ago Italian paper Corrierre dello Sport was criticised for using the headline ‘Black Friday’ on its front page alongside images of Inter striker Romelu Lukaku and Roma’s Chris Smalling.
The former Manchester United team-mates were due to go up against each other for their new clubs the following day.
The article attempted to highlight the league’s racism problem, but the newspaper was accused of fuelling racism by anti-discrimination campaigners.
Lukaku himself and Brescia forward Mario Balotelli are among those to make allegations of being racially abused by supporters during games this season.
Last month all 20 clubs in Italy’s top tier signed an open letter which called on “all those who love Italian football” to unite to try to eradicate the “serious problem”.
The PA news agency has contacted Serie A for comment.