NEIL Lennon is set to brief his Celtic players on how to respond if they are targeted for racist abuse by supporters of their Europa League rivals Lazio at Parkhead tonight following a pre-match meeting with UEFA officials.

The Italian club were last week punished by European football’s governing body for their fans making fascist gestures during the Group E game with Rennes in Rome earlier this month.

They were fined €20,000 and ordered to close the Curva Nord in the Stadio Olimpico for their home fixture against Celtic next month.

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The Serie A club have publicly warned supporters travelling to Glasgow not to indulge in “violence, racism or xenophobia” and Lennon has expressed optimism the encounter, which will be watched by a sell-out crowd, will pass off without incident.

However, the Northern Irishman, whose team are on top of their Europa League section after a draw against Rennes away and a win over Cluj at home, is conscious of the Lazio fans’ notorious reputation and will speak to his charges before kick-off about how to react if they are singled out.

“We always have a meeting on the morning on the game so I would imagine we’ll get the complete protocol from UEFA should something like that arise,” he said. “We’ll follow the protocol that they set.

“If there is anything new that comes from the meeting with UEFA on the morning of the game then we’ll have a meeting with the players and talk to them about it. We have done that a couple of times this season already to re-ignite their memories and get them to understand what could happen and how to react to it.

“Racism of any sort is just distasteful, it’s certainly not something we want to see. I just hope we’re talking about the football at the end of the day, and a great footballing night.

“There are so many different cultures now in the game and everyone should be respected. Players just want to play football. You don’t play the game to get abused for the colour of your skin or what religion you are. You play football to enjoy it and make a few quid.”

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There has been an alarming rise in the number of racist incidents at high-profile football matches in recent weeks – and the game at Celtic Park this evening will be refereed by Ivan Bebek who took charge of the Bulgaria game against England that was stopped due to racism.

Lennon last week stressed he would encourage his players to walk off the park if they are being racially abused. “They’re my players in there and they’re human beings,” he said. “They are here to play football so if they are getting abused and are emotionally upset or personally upset by idiots in the crowd, and we’re not dealing with it, then I have to protect my players and defend them. And that’s exactly what I’ll do.

“They (Lazio fans) are not exclusive to it. There are clubs with a history of it, but all of a sudden we’re seeing a lot of it, even in England now as well, with an underbelly there that’s bursting out when we thought we’d cleaned it all up. But the authorities are doing all they can do eradicate it and they should.

“I have no time for racism at all, and it’s the same with my staff and everyone around the club. We have a duty of care to the players.”

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Lennon continued: “Listen, I don’t know how many Lazio fans are coming or whether there is an agenda there. Obviously, they’ve had their own problems but we’re hoping this is going to be a celebration of football between two great clubs. We’re just hoping that doesn’t rear its head at the game.

“But I’ve had amazing experiences in Italy. I played in the Delli Alpi and then the San Siro before Juventus’ new stadium where the atmosphere was incredible. Their fans were brilliant so I haven’t experienced any of the dark side. I have nothing but respect for Italian teams.”

“I just hope we’re talking about the football at the end of the day.”