MILAN Lazio left back Senad Lulic has been banned for 20 days after he said AS Roma defender Antonio Ruediger was selling socks and belts two years ago.
The Bosnian's comments, made following a heated derby on Dec. 4, were interpreted as racist by Italian media as they seemed to imply that the Germany player, who is black, used to be a street vendor.
The Italian football federation (FIGC), in announcing its decision on Thursday, described the remarks as harmful and offensive, but did not use the term 'racist'. Lulic was also fined 10,000 euros ($10,435).
As the ban coincides with Serie A's winter break, Lulic will only miss one game, at home to lowly Crotone on Jan. 8.
"Ruediger was provoking us even before the game. Two years ago, he was selling socks and belts in Stuttgart," Lulic told the Mediaset Premium channel after his side's 2-0 defeat.
"Now, he acts like he is some sort of phenomenon. It's not his fault, it's those around him who didn't teach him any manners."
On his way out of the stadium, Lulic was asked by reporters if his words were racist and replied: "White people also sell socks."
Lulic later apologised, saying on Instragam that he had "responded to a provocation with a provocation".
"I come from a country that knows about the tragedies caused by ethnic prejudices," he said.
"I regret getting caught up in the tensions after the derby and to have expressed myself in an unfortunate way."
(Writing by Brian Homewood in Berne; Editing by Toby Davis)