ROME – Damiano Tommasi, the president of Italy's footballers' association (AIC), has said that howling at a black footballer is blatant racist behaviour in reply to a Verona fan who aimed racial abuse at Brescia striker Mario Balotelli.
"Let's not beat around the bush, if someone makes a monkey howl at a black player because he is black, that's racism," Tommasi, a former Roma midfielder and Italy international, told the ANSA news agency Monday.
"I hear too many 'yes, but.' Even if it was only two people it's too much."
Sunday's game at Verona's Marcantonio Bentegodi stadium was interrupted for four minutes, with Balotelli threatening to walk off after kicking the ball at fans who targeted him with monkey chants.
A prominent fan of Verona was quoted earlier Monday as saying that Balotelli will never be fully Italian as he commented on the racial slurs.
"Balotelli is Italian because he has Italian citizenship, but he will never be entirely Italian," Luca Castellini reportedly said while being interviewed by Radio Cafe as a leader of Verona fans.
Radio Cafe is a regional station based in Padua, a town about 90 kilometres east of Verona.
"We too have a negro in the squad, who scored (in Sunday's 2-1 defeat of Brescia) and all Verona applauded him," said Castellini, adding that he saw no problems in using the word negro and that he wondered if the Segre commission would go after him for pronouncing it.
The commission, which was created last week in the Italian parliament, was inspired by senator and Holocaust survivor Liliana Segre to prevent and contrast racist and discriminatory behaviours.
Castellini's reference was to Verona forward Eddie Salcedo, who was born in Italy to Colombian parents.
Balotelli's reply came later Monday on Instagram, where he said that he does not intend to give up on the issue of racism.
"This, dear friends, it's not just about football. You guys are referring to social and historical situation that are far bigger than you, little beings," Balotelli wrote.
"You are getting crazy in your ignorance. You are ruining everything.
"But when Mario did score for Italy, and I grant you he will do it again, you liked it, didn't you? Certain people should be banned from society, not only from football."
Tommasi, who was born near Verona, noted that few people know that the town's patron saint, San Zeno, was a black from north-west Africa and that the Comboni Missionaries, a Catholic congregation active in various African countries and also known as the Verona Fathers, were founded in the town.
"It is not a town to be racist, but certain behaviours certainly are," he said.
Balotelli was born in Italy to Ghanaian parents and adopted by a family from the Brescia province.
He is back in the Serie A after three seasons in France, which followed terms at Manchester City and Liverpool. He earlier played in Italy with Inter Milan and AC Milan.
With 14 goals from 36 appearances, he is the best active scorer with the Italian national squad but last played in September 2018.