The comments came as the 71-year-old Tavecchio suggested Italy should replicate other country’s stringent requirements for non-EU players. The number of foreign players in Italy has been a topic of discussion since the national team crashed out of the World Cup in the group stage.
“In England, they identify the players coming in and, if they are professional, they are allowed to play,” Tavecchio said at the summer assembly of Italy’s amateur leagues (LND).
“Here instead we get Opti Pobà, who previously ate bananas and then suddenly becomes a first-team player with Lazio. That’s how it is here. In England, you need to demonstrate what you have on your CV and your pedigree.”
Questioned by reporters about the comments afterwards, Tavecchio claimed that he could not remember what he had said in his own speech. “I can’t remember if I said the word ‘banana’ but I was referring to the CV and professionalism required by English football for players who come from Africa or other countries.”
“If anyone has interpreted my speech as offensive, I offer my apologies”.
Italian football and politics condemn comments
Tavecchio, who is head of the LND, faced serious criticism from the world of Italian politics and football alike.
Italy PM Matteo Renzi condemned Carlo Tavecchio’s racist comments, “That expression on foreigners eating bananas is inexplicable,”
“In football terms, it’s an incredible own-goal. Having said that, the Government cannot decide on sporting Federation issues. We respect the autonomy of the sporting institutions.”
The centre-left Democratic party condemned the remarks. The Congolese-born member of the European Parliament and Italy’s former minister of integration Cécile Kyenge said: “Tavecchio would do well to remember that words, especially when said by people who have important roles in institutions, have both weight and consequences.”
“It’s sad, it seems as though he lost the sense of what he wanted to say, his ability to analyse what he was saying and the effect of what certain phrases can have on others,” she added. “Those in positions of power should remember their role of educator and pay attention to what they’re saying.”
Undersecretary for the Foreign Office Benedetto Della Vedova also gave his view on Twitter. “Politics is irrelevant here. But if after a season of racism in football they choose Tavecchio’s voice, then don’t complain if many of us fans like football less and less.”
Former Italian international Damiano Tommasi who is now president of the Italian Footballers’ Association said in La Gazzetta dello Sport: “I was shocked, not only for what he said but because of the silence of others. There’s no credibility in the fight against racism [if he becomes the president of the FIGC].”
Mino Raiola the representative of the likes of Mario Balotelli and Paulo Pogba has told the Gazzetta dello Sport: “I judge people for what they say and what the FIGC presidential candidate Tavecchio has said is symptomatic of the fact that he is unaware of what he is saying and that he has preconceptions that are racist,” and went further in suggesting players could take legal action against Tavecchio.
Support for Tavecchio’s FIGC presidency bid dwindling
Tavecchio initially had the support of all but two Serie A clubs – Juventus and Roma – his popularity is now plummeting and there are calls for him to renounce his candidature after making the comments.
Sampdoria President Massimo Ferrero raised doubts on his candidacy. “I was profoundly stunned, almost incredulous, faced with Tavecchio’s words” a statement on the official Sampdoria website read.
“I am working for new football, with new ideas, and for that reason I cannot share what Tavecchio said on Friday.”
Fiorentina also criticised the remarks and announced that they cannot continue to support Tavecchi as a candidate for FIGC presidency. The club said in a statement “His candidacy is untenable”.
In an editorial leading Italian sports daily Gazzetta Dello Sport joined those questioning the suitability of the amateur football chief to be FIGC President.
Tavecchio was expected to beat the former AC Milan and Italy midfielder Demetrio Albertini to the top job in a vote on 11 August. The pair are both currently vice-Presidents.
The change in leadership in Italian football comes after the resignation of the former president Giancarlo Abete, who stepped down immediately after Italy’s early exit from the World Cup.
Fare referral to UEFA
The Fare network has referred the comments to European governing body UEFA for action. Football regulations apply to all those with roles in the sport including top-level administrators. Tevecchi could face regulatory sanction in line with other Presidents that have been sanctioned for similar statements.
With material from The Guardian.