UEFA have launched an investigation into allegations of racist abuse directed towards Mario Balotelli at Euro 2012.
The European governing body are looking into reports a banana was thrown onto the pitch during Italy’s 1-1 draw with Croatia as Balotelli left the field.
UEFA will also attempt to find out more on news that as many as 500 Croatian fans made monkey noises believed to be in the direction of the Manchester City forward.
After the BBC’s shocking Panorama documentary detailed how racial tensions still exist in Poland and Ukraine, claiming any Asian or black English supporters may be particularly at risk, this kind of incident is exactly what the competition’s organisers feared most.
The organisation has been shown an image of a banana being removed from the pitch by a steward during the Group C encounter, taken by a photographer from Agence France-Presse, who was stationed directly in front of the travelling Croatian supporters.
The governing body confirmed on Friday that they will begin the process of examining the incident immediately.
In addition to the banana incident, the executive director of Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE), Piara Powar, said their own team of observers had been at the centre of ‘between 300 and 500’ Croat supporters hurling verbal racist abuse towards Balotelli.
“We have got two observers at every match and we make sure that they speak the language of the two teams involved,” Powar told The Times.
“Our observers reported between 300 and 500 Croatian fans were involved in racist chanting in the match against Italy. That is a big number. It was fairly intermittent but progressive throughout the game.
“It intensified when Balotelli was substituted. Our Italian observer is a fairly seasoned fan and said he was shocked by what he had seen and heard.”
In the wake of the Panorama documentary, the enigmatic Balotelli had said he would ‘walk off the pitch and go home’ if he was the victim of racist taunts during the competition.
Despite another UEFA investigation into last Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Spain, however, where he was allegedly targeted by 200 Spanish supporters, Balotelli did not file a complaint and his coach, Cesare Prandelli, insisted he had heard nothing untoward from fans during the game.
In this instance, the 21-year-old striker also departed the field against Croatia without showing any outward signs of being unnerved and has not hinted in any way since that he may have heard any abuse.
A spokesman for the Italian Football Federation, who have written to UEFA expressing ‘great regret’ that the country’s national anthem has been the subject of booing by both Spanish and Croatian fans, said: “It’s not quite clear where this photograph was shot at the game and whether it (the banana) was launched against Mario Balotelli.”
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