Police had to intervene after Mario Balotelli was subjected to racist chants at Italy’s World Cup training base in Florence yesterday.
Youths outside the Coverciano complex are thought to have been responsible for the chants, and Balotelli appeared visibly disturbed. The training session was open to the media and Balotelli could be heard saying as he ran by reporters, “Only in Rome and Florence are they that stupid”.
While most of the fans cheered for Balotelli, police approached the area where the chants came from and they quickly ended.
Balotelli was born in Sicily to Ghanaian immigrants and brought up by an Italian foster family. He has faced racist chants throughout his professional career.
“It’s unbelievable that in 2014 we still have this form of racism,” Balotelli’s fellow forward, Ciro Immobile, said. “It’s not great for the nation. We represent Italy. Fortunately, Mario was very calm. We know how serious this is but we don’t want to further discuss this within the group.
“We will try to make appeals in order for these episodes not to happen again. I’m not ashamed of being Italian, but I do get upset by this type of behaviour.”
Giancarlo Abete, president of the Italian Football Federation, also condemned the racist chants. “This is unacceptable behaviour,” Abete said to Gazzetta dello Sport. “This should not happen. We will take this episode into account.
“The important thing is that this is only a minority and they have no regard for civil coexistence.”
It is not the first time that Balotelli has been the victim of racism. In 2013, while playing for his club side Milan, he was racially abused by a section of Roma fans during a Serie A game against them.
Balotelli was also the focus of much speculation on racist abuse before the 2012 European Championship finals in Poland and Ukraine, and Uefa placed spotters inside stadiums, resulting in fan behaviour by Spain and Croatia being sanctioned.
Fifa says it will have zero tolerance for racism at the World Cup but has not announced plans yet on how it will control behaviour inside stadiums.
Meanwhile, Immobile, who is from the Naples area, noted how insulting anti-Naples chants have pervaded Serie A stadiums recently.
“When I hear that it saddens me, because I have a lot of pride in my city,” Immobile said.