Carlo Tavecchio’s bid to become Italian Football Federation (FIGC) president was damaged on Saturday after he used a racist slur.
Tavecchio was speaking as part of his bid to become FIGC president with the National Amateur League (LND) boss, calling for work permits to be introduced into Italy’s professional football divisions to ensure local players are only denied playing time by quality foreign footballers.
But Tavecchio caused an uproar on social media and in the Italian press for making references to ‘banana eating’ in his speech.
Italian football has been dogged by racism with a number of high-profile incidents over the past couple of years, including national team striker Mario Balotelli suffering racist abuse at a pre-World Cup training camp in May, while Ghana international Kevin-Prince Boateng led Milan off the field in January 2013 during a practice match after hearing monkey chants from the crowd.
While Tavecchio is widely expected to be elected as the FIGC’s new president, the 71-year-old’s speech has at least increased doubt amongst fans over his suitability.
“England requires certain requisites in order to grant access to the country in order to play football, we do nothing of the sort,” Tavecchio said.
“Let’s say ‘Opti Poba’ came here, while before he was eating bananas back home and now he plays as a starter for Lazio and everyone is fine with it.
“In England he must demonstrate his experience and pedigree to play.”
Afterwards, Tavecchio released a statement admitting he had used “improper language” but denied he is racist, while president of Lega Pro, which runs the third and fourth tiers of Italian football, Maurizio Beretta defended the LND boss.
“His life is a continual testimony of actions against every form of discrimination,” Beretta said.
“A wrong turn of phrase does not change the judgement of Tavecchio as a person and a director.”
But former Roma midfielder Damiano Tommasi, who is president of the Italian Footballers’ Association, slammed the lack of condemnation from football officials.
“I am disconcerted by Carlo Tavecchio’s comments on Opti Poba and bananas,” Tommasi told ANSA.
“I don’t know whether to be even more shocked by the silence that surrounded them.”
The 40-year-old former Italy international added that he had received “numerous phone calls of protest from Italian and foreign players who are literally astounded”.
Tavecchio is reportedly supported by all Serie A clubs apart from Juventus and Roma, who prefer the only other candidate – Demetrio Albertini.