The leading candidate for Italian Football Federation president, Carlo Tavecchio, has drawn himself into a racism row following statements made this past Friday at the summer assembly of Italy’s amateur leagues.
The 71-year-old gave his thoughts on the influx of foreign players into Italy, something that has been a flashpoint topic in the country since the national team was eliminated from this year’s World Cup in Brazil.
Tavecchio, the Italian Football Federation vice-president and Amateur leagues president, suggested that Italy should replicate England’s stringent requirements for non-European Union players.
He referred to a hypothetical name and situation while stating: “In England, they identify the players coming in and, if they are professional, they are allowed to play.”
“Here instead, we get `Opti Poba’, 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.”
Tavecchio was later questioned by reporters about his comments and claimed he could not remember what he said in his 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,” he said. “If anyone has interpreted my speech as offensive, I offer my apologies.”
Just a few days ago, Tavecchio was considered the favorite to be the next Italian football president. Now, he is facing criticism from various groups and politicians in Italy.
Cecile Kyenge is an Italian citizen, born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who was the target of repeated racial slurs upon her appointment as Italy’s minister of integration.
Kyenge gave her thoughts on vice-chief’s statement: “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.”
Damiano Tommasi, president of the Italian Footballer’s Association also denounced Tavecchio and his comments.
The former Italian international midfielder said: “I am disconcerted by Tavecchio’s comments on bananas and Opti Poba. I don’t know whether to be even more shocked by the silence that surrounded them.”
“I have received a number of phone calls of protest from Italian and foreign players who are just astounded by this.”
Despite the controversy, Tavecchio is still believed to be the favorite to beat Demetrio Albertini, a former AC Milan player and Italian international, to the presidential seat following an August 11th vote.