Sulley Muntari ban for protesting racial abuse during Pescara match rescinded

ROME -- The Italian football federation has rescinded Sulley Muntari's one-match ban for walking off the field in response to racist abuse during a Serie A game.

The Pescara player received a yellow card at Cagliari for protesting about the abuse and was booked again for leaving the field without following procedures. The Ghana international's two yellow cards amounted to a red and an automatic one-game ban.

That suspension was lifted on Friday by the appeal court of the Italian football federation (FIGC) following global protests. The matter had even reached the United Nations, with its top human rights official hailing Muntari as an "inspiration."

"I feel that someone has finally listened and heard me," Muntari told players' union FIFPro. "The last few days have been very hard for me. I have felt angry and isolated. I was being treated like a criminal. How could I be punished when I was the victim of racism?"

Muntari said he hoped his case would influence similar situations arising in the future.

"I hope my case can help so that other footballers do not suffer like me," he said. "I hope it can be a turning point in Italy and show the world what it means to stand up for your rights. This is an important victory to send a message that there's no place for racism in football, or society in general."

FIGC President Carlo Tavecchio told national news agency ANSA that he was "satisfied with the outcome ... also because roles and procedures which are guaranteed by our system were respected."

World footballers' union, FIFPro, and the Professional Footballers' Association welcomed the Italian Football Federation's decision, with FIFPro Division Europe president Bobby Barnes saying common sense had prevailed.

"Anyone with a sense of justice will look at the situation and see the right thing has been done,'' Barnes told Press Association Sport.

"For the lad to have been racially abused is bad enough but to receive a ban as well because the correct protocol had not been carried out was very unfair, to say the least.

"There is clear protocol in place that should be triggered when this type of abuse happens and that did not happen.

"The player was forced to take action under his own volition because there was no support and the decision for him to be banned was clearly the wrong one.

"So, albeit belatedly, the authorities in Italy have now made the correct decision.''

Muntari is now available for Pescara's home match against Crotone on Sunday.

Muntari said he heard racial slurs from a section of the home supporters and brought the incident to the attention of referee Daniele Minelli, pointing to his skin and demanding the match be stopped.

The referee, who did not hear the chanting, opted to instead book the former AC Milan man. Muntari then walked off the field in protest before confronting some of the home fans while slapping his own skin.

"What am I supposed to do? Just stand there and let it go?" Muntari said on Sky Calcio after the game "That sets a bad culture. We need this to stop."

Muntari received the backing of Alessandro Del Piero, who works as a pundit for Sky Calcio, after the match. "You handled things perfectly," the Juventus and Italy legend told the 32-year-old. "You did everything right."

Pescara coach Zdenek Zeman, who watched his side finish the game with 10 men, was critical of the referee's handling of the incident, but also suggested that Muntari should not have taken matters into his own hands.

"Muntari heard racist chants and asked the referee to intervene," the coach told Sky Sport Italia. "There's so much talk about what we should do, but then we do nothing and shrug it off.

"Muntari left us down to 10 men, he left of his own volition when we could've still had our say in the final minutes. The Cagliari fans constantly hurled racist chants at him and he asked the referee to intervene. Sulley therefore decided to leave in protest."

Pescara, who are already relegated, lost the game 1-0 and remain at the foot of the table having taken 14 points from 34 top flight outings.

Press Association and The Associated Press contributed to this report.