Favourite for top Italian football post accused of racism

Carlo Tavecchio urged to withdraw candidacy after remarks to owners and directors

Mario Balotelli of Italy has often been in the firing line from “ultra” fans who target the international with foul-mouthed racist invective. Photograph:  Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Mario Balotelli of Italy has often been in the firing line from “ultra” fans who target the international with foul-mouthed racist invective. Photograph: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Mon, Jul 28, 2014, 01:00

“England checks out players when they arrive in the country, to see if they are professional enough to play. With us, however, ‘Opti Poba’, who yesterday was eating bananas, today is first choice at Lazio.”

The above quote is not a joke. On the contrary, the man to utter those words is 71-year-old Carlo Tavecchio, favourite to be next President of the Italian Football Federation (FIGC). Tavecchio made the remarks last Friday in Rome when, in an address to club directors and owners, he outlined his thoughts on the question of non-EU players in Italian football.

Even if Tavecchio’s remarks drew silence from the ranks of the club directors, within hours they had instigated a tempestuous web-driven polemic that stretches far beyond the boundaries of football. Fans, politicians and commentators have stigmatised Tavecchio as a racist, calling on him to withdraw his candidacy to lead Italian football.

“Not a mistake. Just racism. Just ignorance. Just vulgarity. He cannot be President of anything. Clear off, Tavecchio,” tweeted Nicola Fratoianni, a senior figure in left-wing party SEL.

“Tavecchio cannot become head of FIGC. Games have been suspended and whole terraces closed for words like that. He would have no credibility,”

tweeted Davide Faraone, welfare officer in the Democratic Party of Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi.

Former AS Roma and Italy player Damiano Tommasi, now head of the Italian players association, said he was “alarmed” by the comments.

“But I am not sure whether or not to be even more alarmed by the silence which accompanied these remarks. Lots of players, Italian and foreign, have rung me. They are all appalled,” said Tommasi.

Two former centre-left ministers, Giovanna Melandri and Cecile Kyenge, have called on Tavecchio to withdraw his candidacy, with Congo-born former minister for integration Kyenge critical of the remarks.

“Words weigh like rocks, especially if uttered by people who hold roles of responsibility in public life. Words matter and they have consequences,” said Kyenge.

However, Tavecchio has thus far declined to withdraw. Instead he has apologised for his remarks saying his intention had been to outline the dynamics of a problem facing Italian football. Given that the FIGC presidential election takes place on August 11th, there could however still be time for him to reconsider.

Meanwhile, the image of Italian football continues to suffer. Racist incidents last season involving black players Mario Balotelli, Kevin Prince Boateng and Kevin Constant were the latest in a long line serving as reminders that racism is still alive and well within many hard-line “ultra” fan groups.

In light of Dani Alves’s famous banana-eating gesture last spring, Tavecchio’s words seem especially stupid and ignorant. He hardly seems like the ideal choice to lead Italian football into a brighter, non-racist, non-violent world.

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