Mario Balotelli hits out at 'stupid' Italy fans over racist chants
Italy's World Cup training preparations were overshadowed yesterday when Mario Balotelli, the former Manchester City striker, was racially abused at their training camp.
England face Italy in their opening match of the tournament on June 14 in a repeat of the Euro 2012 quarter-final, with the Italian squad having congregated in Florence on Tuesday to begin their preparations.
Local police, however, were forced to intervene yesterday when young fans inside the Coverciano base of the Italian Football Federation subjected Balotelli to racist shouts. The training session was open to the media and as he ran past reporters, Balotelli could be heard to say: "Only in Rome and Florence are they that stupid."
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 in Italy at Juventus, Inter Milan and AS Roma.
Balotelli's Italy team-mates were clearly also angered by the incident.
"It's unbelievable that in 2014 we still have this form of racism," said striker Ciro Immobile. "It's not great for the nation. We represent Italy.
"It saddens me. To be hearing racist insults from people, whether you're yellow, black or white, is just unacceptable. Fortunately, Mario let it pass over him and he got on with his training. But we as players should do more to help stamp this out." Giancarlo Abete, the president of the Italian Football Federation, claimed that it had been a small minority of Italian fans but also condemned the abuse.
"This is unacceptable," he said. "This should not happen. The important thing is that this is only a minority and they have no regard for civil coexistence."
Fifa claims it will have zero tolerance for racism at the World Cup, but has not announced plans yet on how it will enforce this inside stadiums.
Cesar Prandelli, the Italy manager, selected a 30-man squad for his training camp.