Monday, November 4, 2019

Players and match officials persuaded Mario Balotelli to remain on the pitch following racist abuse from the stands


Mario Balotelli kicked the ball into the crowd and threatened to walk off the pitch following racist abuse during Brescia's defeat by Hellas Verona.

Play was suspended after Italy striker Balotelli, 29, picked up the ball in the 54th minute.

Brescia team-mates and the officials persuaded him to stay on the field.

Balotelli wrote on Instagram: "The 'people' of this curva who made the monkey chants. Shame on you, shame on you, shame on you."

The former Manchester City and Liverpool striker included a video of some supporters making the chants in his Instagram Stories.

He added: "In front of your children, wives, relatives, parents, friends and acquaintances... shame.

"Thanks to all the colleagues on the field and off for the solidarity I had with me, and all the messages received from you fans.

"Thank you very much. You have proven to be true men not like those who deny the evidence. #notoracism."

After Balotelli had been persuaded to stay on the pitch, referee Maurizio Mariani initiated the anti-racism protocol.

An announcement warned fans that further abuse would lead to the game being abandoned.

Balotelli played the full match and scored a sublime goal in the 85th minute, though his side were unable to find a late equaliser.

It was the second time such a protocol has been followed in Serie A this weekend after the game between Roma and Napoli was briefly halted when territorial chants were directed at the Napoli supporters.

Verona boss Ivan Juric insisted after the game though there was no racist abuse.

He said: "I'm not afraid to say today there was nothing. Lots of whistling and teasing against a great player, but there was nothing else.

"I have also taken so many insults over the years, I know what it means - but today there has been nothing.

"On the reason of the reaction you have to ask him. When there is racism, I will have no problem saying so because it sucks, even if it comes from my fans.

"But today I heard nothing. We don't create a case where there isn't, it would be a lie."

Brescia later issued a statement criticising Verona's senior managerial representatives for "an attempt to deny or minimise the gravity of the incident".

"This afternoon it happened to one of our players, but it could have happened to anyone else, of any team and the sentence should be as equally firm and determined," the club statement said. "Football is for everyone and everyone deserves the same respect."

Piara Powar, the executive director of the Fare network, which combats racism and discrimination in football across Europe, praised Balotelli for his actions.

He said: "Mario Balotelli has taken a stand against racism and we applaud him for it.

"But the question many people are asking is why other players on the pitch, his team-mates and players from Verona, thought it more appropriate to tell him to stay and suffer instead of joining him in solidarity?

"There is so much to do in Italy, so much education, so much regulatory work, the situation is out of control.

"We will add it to the list of incidents in Italy and present it to the authorities, but there seems little prospect of effective action being taken. It is a depressing picture."

Balotelli previously said he would walk off the pitch if he was again subjected to racial abuse after he and AC Milan team-mates were targeted in a Serie A match against Roma in 2013.

In March 2018, the then-Nice forward had a booking for complaining about alleged racist chants by Dijon fans rescinded.

On Saturday, another Serie A match between Roma and Napoli was temporarily paused due to chants aimed at Napoli supporters.

Fare claimed earlier this season that Italian football's disciplinary systems to combat racism are "not fit for purpose".

That came after Cagliari were cleared of racist chanting towards Inter Milan striker Romelu Lukaku, with a judging panel determining there was not enough evidence for sanctions.

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