Italian half-marathon chiefs back down over controversial African ban

Trieste half-marathon organisers, who were accused of racism when they refused to allow African runners to take part in their May 5th race, backed down on Saturday after a barrage of criticism over their contentious decision.

Italian half-marathon chiefs back down over controversial African ban
Organizers claimed they were taking a stand against the exploitation of African runners, like Tadu Abate of Ethiopia who is seen here winning Sunday's Hamburg Marathon. Photo: Daniel Reinhardt/DPA
“After attracting a great deal of attention to a fundamental ethical subject, we will invite African athletes, contrary to what was announced,” said Fabio Carini, organiser of the race. “I acknowledge that we should have raised the issue differently and with a different timing and that's what we will do. I regret the reactions to this decision and apologise to those people who have felt offended.”
Carini had told Saturday's edition of La Repubblica that the move only to allow European entries was to make a stand against the exploitation of African runners.
“This year we have decided only to take European athletes to make the point that measures must be taken to regulate what is currently a trade in high-value African athletes, who are purely and simply exploited, which is something we can no longer accept,” he said.
Interviewed on Rai Television, Carini said athletes were “under-paid and treated indecently in relation to their sporting value”.
However, Carini came under fire from an Italian member of the European Parliament, Isabella de Monte, who called the decision “serious and unworthy”.
“We are preventing professionals from taking part in a race because they come from Africa… The situation is in the process of slipping away from us and we are returning to the dark days,” the MEP for the Progressive Alliance of 
Socialists and Democrats said.
“The only way to react to this type of decision is outrage,” she added. “Sport is about sharing, unifying, equality, loyalty and respect, that's what we teach our children. But what example are we giving them with this type of decision?”
Later Saturday, the Italian athletics federation said they were investigating the controversy.
“The Italian Athletics Federation announces that its authorities have immediately opened an investigation to examine the facts and possible violations of its standards and regulations committed by affiliated clubs or licensees,” said a media statement.
The Trieste half-marathon controversy comes days after Lazio fans racially abused two AC Milan players in the Italian Cup semi-final. This was the latest in a series of racist incidents in Serie A this season. Earlier this month, Juventus youngster Moise Kean was racially abused in a game at Cagliari.

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‘Wake up, you ignorant people’: Mario Balotelli responds after fan says he’ll never be ‘fully Italian’

Mario Balotelli on Monday reacted with anger after the head of Verona's hardcore ultras fans group fuelled a racism row by denying any abuse had been directed at the Brescia forward, who he said could not even be considered Italian.

'Wake up, you ignorant people': Mario Balotelli responds after fan says he'll never be 'fully Italian'
Mario Balotelli tried to leave the pitch after Hellas Verona fans made monkey noises. File photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP

Italian international Balotelli scored in a 2-1 Serie A defeat on Sunday, but his performance was overshadowed by his fury at monkey chants from a section of Verona's supporters.

But Verona's supporters group leader Luca Castellini insisted their fans were not racist.

READ ALSO: Italian fans to black footballer: 'Monkey chants aren't racist in Italy'

“Balotelli's a clown. He only heard it in his own head,” Castellini told Radio Cafe on Monday. “We have a cultural identity of a certain kind. We're an irreverent fan base, who make fun of bald players, ones with long hair, southern players and the ones of colour, but we don't do it with political or racist instincts.

“The chants came from only four people, who were only heard by the people who recorded the video.”

Despite denials of abuse from Verona, a video published on Twitter by a fan showed a number of supporters clearly directing monkey chants at Balotelli before the Italy international booted the ball at them in the stands.

The 29-year-old, who was born in Palermo to Ghanaian parents and raised just outside Brescia, had to be held back by players from both teams to stop him from leaving the field of play.

Castellini claimed that the 36-times capped international could not be considered Italian.

“Balotelli's Italian because he has Italian citizenship, but he can never be completely Italian,” said Castellini.

That prompted Balotelli to reply on Instagram: “Here, my friends, this has nothing to do with football anymore. You are implying about a social and historical situation much bigger than you small-minded people. You guys are losing it. Wake up, you ignorant people.”

Balotelli added: “But when Mario scored and still guarantees to score goals for Italy, you were fine with it?”

When asked if Verona fans were racist, Castellini added: “We have a negro in our team and he scored yesterday and all of Verona applauded.” Castellini was referring to Verona forward Eddie Salcedo.

Verona coach Ivan Juric had earlier told Sky Sport that he heard “no racists chants, nothing at all” after a win that lifts his side to ninth, adding that “to say otherwise is a lie”.

The club's president Maurizio Setti said that his club's supporters were “light-hearted, not racist” and were a crowd with “real sport in its DNA”.

“We are the first to condemn racism but it is wrong to generalise… Maybe two or three people among 20,000 fans might have said something,” he said to Sky.


The match was suspended for a few minutes as Balotelli tried to leave the pitch before a message was read out on the stadium loudspeaker threatening that both teams would leave the field if there was a repeat of any abuse, a message that was whistled loudly by a large number of the home fans.

Former England manager Fabio Capello on Monday praised the former Manchester City and Inter Milan player's reaction, and called for strong action.

“Balotelli's reaction was excessive in one respect but important,” the 73-year-old told Radio Anch'io Sport. “We give importance to these people, nobody has the strength to condemn them. They feel strong in groups and are sheep when they are not in a group.

“It would be enough to do as in England, there are cameras. We need decisions, not small talk.”

A number of black players have been racially abused by supporters in Italy in the opening weeks of the season, with Milan midfielder Franck Kessie targeted by Verona fans in September and Inter Milan striker Romelu Lukaku abused at Cagliari, also serial offenders.