CHARLES GRAHAM - We already have the 2013 hero

THE year 2012 was an exceptional one for sporting heroes, especially home-grown ones.

But 2013 has already produced an even bigger hero in my books: footballer Kevin-Prince Boating of Italy’s Serie A.

While the sport’s mealy-mouthed authorities do not crack down anywhere near hard enough on the ugly scourge of racism which, if anything, seems to be on the increase in some parts of Europe, he generated international interest and support by walking off the pitch during a “friendly” match after racist fans made monkey noises at him.

It was a protest by the AC Milan star which gained far more publicity than a club fine might have although there is the rumour circulating, disgraceful if true, that FIFA is actually intending to punish him for kicking the ball into the crowd.

The lower division side Pro Patria, whose fans abused Boateng at the game which was abandoned after his withdrawal, has been ordered to play a match behind closed doors as punishment by the governing body for Italy’s lower professional leagues.

It has also emerged that the club – whose name means For the Fatherland –has previously been fined several thousand pounds for “similar incidents.”

But these disgraceful displays, particularly prevalent in eastern Europe, are not been stamped upon by the footballing powers with the same zest and force as they were in Britain in the 1970s and ’80s.

Fifa president Sepp Blatter, it is dismaying to observe, chose to condemn Boateng’s walk-out rather than praise his courage and principles.

If people as influential as Blatter are missing what should be the real target of public anger, what are the chances of positive change?

That said, we live in hope in that individuals sometimes hold greater power for change than Governments and major bodies if the mood and moment is right.

Protests over the hideous gang rape of a student on a Delhi bus may finally force the nettle of institutional sexism to be grasped in India while the whole Arab Spring was sparked by one market trader in Tunisia setting fire to himself.

Boating has shamed racist fans and the footballing authorities for not obliterating this evil cancer which still ravages part of a great sport.

Let us hope it brings about real change and completely alienates Nazi thugs masquerading as football supporters.