Mario Balotelli is asking for help in the fight against racism in Italian football after he was repeatedly booed by his own country’s fans during Italy’s friendly against Romania on Wednesday.
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Balotelli, who was born in Italy but is of Ghanian descent, was taunted by a group of about 100 extreme right-wing Italian fans who traveled to the match in Klagenfurt, Austria. They also held up a banner that read, "No to a multiethnic national team."
"I was very disappointed yesterday and I didn’t want to say anything. The only sure thing is that I alone can’t do anything. Everyone needs to do something against racism," Balotelli told Sky Italia on Thursday.
Playing only his second match for Italy, Balotelli said walking off the pitch would have been an excessive reaction to "a (group) of idiots."
"These are things that have been going on for a long time," Balotelli added. "What happened yesterday was racism, but it’s also stupidity on the part of just a few people. I’m certain that if I were to meet one of those guys alone he would ask for my autograph."
Balotelli thanked Italy coach Cesare Prandelli for hugging him when he came off in the second half.
"That was a gesture I liked a lot," Balotelli said.
Balotelli’s agent, Mino Raiola, has asked for the Italian Football Federation to intervene.
"We’ve got to help Mario fight this, because he alone can’t do it," Raiola said. "He’s trying to find a way to combat these people, and sometimes he just doesn’t respond or acknowledge them, but I’m sure that a kid like him suffers inside. Everyone needs to help, including the federation."
Italian police have identified 41 fans involved in the taunts, according to the ANSA news agency.
Raiola suggested that racist fans should be removed from the stadium.
"I don’t think they’re fans of the national team," he said. "These are people who don’t deserve to have a national team."
Fans also taunted Italy midfielder Cristian Ledesma, who was born in Argentina and made his first appearance for the Azzurri.
"We didn’t even see the banner from the pitch, but we heard the chants and I’m very sorry for Balotelli," Ledesma said upon returning to Lazio’s training center Thursday.
Fiorentina midfielder Gaetano D’Agostino on Wednesday said that players should only appear with the national team for the country they were born in.
"I don’t want to respond to D’Agostino," Ledesma said. "Everyone has their own opinion, but it’s not up to me to respond to him."
In Italy’s previous match last month, it was awarded a 3-0 default win over Serbia after rioting fans forced the European Championship qualifier to be abandoned. However, since Italy was the home team and responsible for allowing fans into the stadium with destructive material, it was given a conditional penalty by UEFA whereby it will be ordered to play one game in an empty stadium if trouble is repeated.
However, UEFA spokesman Rob Faulkner told The Associated Press that friendlies are arranged through FIFA and therefore he doesn’t think the incidents in the Romania match can be linked to the UEFA sentence.