The league said the artwork 'aims to spread the values of integration, multiculturalism and brotherhood'.
Milan: Italy’s top-flight Serie A soccer league launched a new anti-racism campaign on Monday by presenting artwork featuring three side-by-side paintings of apes but the move has been described by campaign group Fare as a sick joke.
The league said the paintings by Italian artist Simone Fugazzotto would be exhibited permanently at the entrance to its main hall “to underline the commitment of the world of football against all forms of discrimination.”
It said the artwork “aims to spread the values of integration, multiculturalism and brotherhood”.
The paintings drew an angry backlash on social media from outside Italy, although there was little reaction inside the country itself.
“These creations are an outrage, they will be counter-productive and continue the dehumanisation of people of African heritage,” said anti-racism group Fare. “It is difficult to see what Serie A was thinking, who did they consult?
“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.”
Milan-born Fugazzotto, described as being “known for his disruptive works”, is famous in Italy and almost all his art involves drawings of chimpanzees.
He said he got the idea for the paintings after Napoli’s Senegalese defender Kalidou Koulibaly suffered racist insults during a match at Inter Milan last season.
“I got so angry that... I got an idea. Why not stop censoring the word monkey in football but turn the concept around and say instead that in the end, we’re all apes?” he said.
“Because if we are human beings, monkeys, reincarnated souls, energy or aliens who cares. The important thing is to hear the concept of equality and brotherhood.”
Italian football has been plagued by racism with Inter Milan Belgium forward Romelu Lukaku and Brescia’s Italian striker Mario Balotelli having been subjected to racist insults from rival fans during matches this season.
A veteran Italian pundit was dropped from a Sunday night round table programme after suggesting Lukaku could only be stopped by giving him bananas to eat, while Brescia’s president said Balotelli’s problem was that he was “black” and he was “trying to get whiter”.
Both men said their comments were not intended to be taken seriously.
Earlier this month, Italian sports daily Corriere dello Sport used the headline ‘Black Friday’ along with a picture of Lukaku and AS Roma’s England defender Chris Smalling to preview last Friday’s match between their clubs in Milan.
Despite a wave of criticism, the newspaper stood by the headline.