Verona get one-match partial stadium closure for Balotelli racist abuse
Italian club Verona were on Tuesday given a one-match partial stadium closure for monkey chants from their fans directed at Brescia forward Mario Balotelli during a Serie A game at the weekend. Italian international Balotelli scored in Sunday's 2-1 defeat but his performance was overshadowed by his fury at the racist abuse from a section of Verona's supporters.
Serie A's disciplinary commission on Tuesday said the chants "were clearly perceived, in addition to the player, also by the federation representative positioned nearby." The commission found "after these cries... there were also cries of support followed by long applause".
As a result, they ordered that a section known as the "Poltrone Est" in the Bentegodi Stadium, which can host around 3,500 spectators in the 30,000-capacity ground, be closed for one match. Despite denials of abuse from Verona, a video published on Twitter by a fan showed a number of supporters directing abuse at Balotelli before the forward booted the ball at them in the stands.
"I didn't accuse Hellas Verona, I didn't accuse that section of the Hellas Verona stadium. I accused the handful of idiots who did what I heard. I accused those morons and that's all," Balotelli told Italian television. "If you want to disturb a player, there are thousands of other ways to do it. But not like that. It's not right like that.
"This handful and I say it again because the idiots aren't numerous but they exist, those who did that are stupid. Racist behavior is not acceptable, it never has been, and never will be," he added. The match was suspended for a few minutes around the hour mark as Balotelli tried to force himself from the field before a message was read out on the stadium loudspeaker threatening that both teams would leave the field if there was a repeat of any abuse.
The message was whistled loudly by a large number of the home fans. Verona coach Ivan Juric insisted he heard "no racists chants, nothing at all," adding that "to say otherwise is a lie".
Earlier Verona announced they had banned Luca Castellini, the leader of their hardcore ultras supporters group, until June 2030 for saying Balotelli would never be "completely Italian". "Balotelli's Italian because he has Italian citizenship, but he can never be completely Italian," Castellini said in a radio interview on Monday.
When asked if Verona fans were racist, Castellini added: "We have a negro in our team and he scored yesterday and all of Verona applauded." Verona barred Castellini from their stadium "based on considerations and expressions seriously contrary to those that distinguish the ethical principles and values of our club".
- Guardiola voices support -
Balotelli, 29, who was born in Palermo to Ghanaian parents but was raised just outside Brescia, had to be held back by players from both teams to stop him leaving the pitch. "Balotelli's a clown. He only heard it in his own head," continued Castellini.
According to the Italian Ansa news agency, the Verona public prosecutor's office has opened an investigation into Castellini's remarks for a potential crime of "incitement to racial hatred". A motion was also put forward to the Verona city council by four councilors calling for any footballer "defaming" the city to face legal action.
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola, whose side are in Italy to face Atalanta in the Champions League on Wednesday, expressed his support for ex-City striker Balotelli. "Unfortunately these things happen a lot and often the innocent party is blamed," said Guardiola at a San Siro news conference.
"I hope Mario Balotelli is not punished because sometimes strong steps are needed to make progress. "It is a problem throughout Europe and not only in Italy. We have to fight day after day, at home and in schools." Balotelli, who obtained Italian citizenship at the age of 18, has been capped 36 times for Italy.
(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)