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Carlo Tavecchio in racism row after calling African players “banana eaters”

Jul 27, 2014, 3:12 PM EDT

Closed stands at the Stadio Olimpico reflect Roma fans' punishment for 'territorially discriminatory' chants aimed at Napoli fans. Closed stands at the Stadio Olimpico reflect Roma fans' punishment for 'territorially discriminatory' chants aimed at Napoli fans.

Who is Carlo Tavecchio, and why should I care if he’s a racist?

Well, beyond a general dread of racism, the reason to care about Tavecchio is because he’s about to become the next president of the Italian Soccer Federation (FIGC). Currently he’s a vice-president, and he’s in charge of the Lega Nazionale Dilettanti (National Amateur League), which controls all amateur soccer in Italy.

Tavecchio caused a stir this weekend when he suggested that Italy implement England’s strict requirements for non-EU players, holding them to high standards of play and professionalism.

He went on to contrast that with the Italian attitude, saying:

Here instead we get Opti Pobà, 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.

Opti Pobà is not, in fact, a person. He is an invention of Tavecchio’s, a way of referring to African players. Lazio have but one African player on their team. Nigerian Ogenyi Onazi arrived from Lagos club My People, joining the Lazio youth system in 2011.

Despite referring to Africans as banana eaters, Tavecchio remains in prime position to become head of the FIGC, after former president Giancarlo Abete stepped down following Italy’s early exit from the World Cup. Perhaps those prepared to vote for him believe what he said after 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. If anyone has interpreted my speech as offensive, I offer my apologies.

Wanting to hold players to high standards before granting them work permits is one thing. Referring to them by use of a racial slur is quite another. Especially since Italy still grabs headlines for the racist behavior of its fans. They abused Mario Balotelli after the World Cup, the ultras regularly find themselves in trouble for racist chants or banners, and the fan curvas are often closed in punishment for behavior that abuses those of a different skin color — or even those from a different region of Italy.

This is the sort of behavior that Italy should be weeding out, not ushering up to such an influential position in the sport. Italy needs to take steps to address racism in soccer, not elevate a man that is likely to look the other way when players are abused.

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