In what campaigners hope could be a defining moment in the fight against racism, Boateng, with the full support of his AC Milan colleagues, forced a friendly match against Italian fourth division side Pro Patria to be halted after 25 minutes.
The former Portsmouth and Tottenham midfielder was so incensed by the chants emanating from one corner of the ground that he picked the ball up and booted it towards the offending supporters in the stands before ripping off his shirt and storming off the pitch.
There was a brief period of confusion as players from both sides tried to talk to Boateng, but Milan’s Italian captain Massimo Ambrosini instructed the rest of the Milan team to walk off in a show of support for Boateng.
Anti-racism campaigners in Britain and fellow professionals across the game have also expressed their support for Boateng’s show of defiance. It could set an example for other black players to follow in competitive fixtures, thus challenging Uefa’s policy that players must remain on the pitch, regardless of crowd chants.
AC Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri said he hoped his players had set a precedent in Italian football, which has long been plagued by racist chanting and abuse. “I hope that [our actions] will be followed if it were to happen in official games, from the amateur championships to Serie A,” he said.
“We are disappointed and saddened by what has happened. Milan play for the right to respect all players. We need to stop these uncivilised gestures. We are sorry for all the other fans who came here for a beautiful day of sport. We promise to return, and we are sorry for the club and players of Pro Patria, but we could not make any other decision.”
Boateng was not the only player targeted, with team-mates Urby Emanuelson, M’Baye Niang and Sulley Muntari also targeted before the Ghana international snapped.
“We were annoyed from the beginning,” said Ambrosini, whose support for Boateng was significant because it meant the game had to be abandoned. “We wanted to give a strong signal. We could not continue the game in an atmosphere like this.”
Although players have threatened to walk off in the past, it is the first time an entire team has left the pitch and halted a game.
The Cameroon international Samuel Eto’o walked off the pitch while playing for Barcelona against Real Zaragoza in 2006, but was persuaded to return by team-mates and the match continued.
Roberto Carlos left the pitch after a banana was hurled at him while playing for Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala against Krylya Sovetov Samara in June 2011, but he was replaced by a substitute.