Mario Balotelli Suffers Racial Abuse
Mario Balotelli was racially abused during his side’s Euro 2012 opener as hundreds of Spain fans made monkey noises at the Italy striker.
Just days after reports of the Holland team being on the receiving end of vile abuse during a training session in Krakow, the latest race storm has overshadowed Italy’s 1-1 draw with the reigning champions.
Balotelli, who had a frustrating hour on the pitch before being substituted, threatened before the tournament to walk off if he was abused during a match.
And shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander has advised England players to leave the field in protest if they are targeted by racists when they face France.
He said: ‘I support referees taking the strongest possible action in the face of racist abuse from the terraces.
They have the power to stop the game. However, if a referee ignored blatant racist abuse, and the England players or their management felt they were justified in walking off, they should be supported in their action.’
Photographer Chris Brunskill, a 35-year-old from Liverpool, witnessed the abuse in the 40,000-seater Arena Gdansk in Poland.
He said: ‘I was sat behind the goal with all the Spanish fans behind me and they were involved in monkey chanting and laughter and mockery whenever Balotelli was on the ball.
‘The ringleaders were two fans who were in fancy dress as Spanish tennis player Rafa Nadal. But the stewards just seemed to think it was a laugh, and they did nothing. They seemed to think it was a giggle.
‘These two were at the centre of it in my view but there were hundreds in the Spanish section joining in. I would say there were around 200-300 who joined in at times. It was especially bad when Balotelli was involved in any kind of trouble or altercation, for example when he was booked.’
Another photographer, Getty’s Michael Steele from Wells, Somerset, said: ‘I could not see who was involved but it was obvious they were monkey chants. It was disgusting. There is no excuse for it. I am pretty sure Balotelli knew what was going on and heard it as he was close to that section of the crowd when he was booked.
‘There were also what sounded like derogatory chants in Spanish with his name involved, but I do not know what they meant.’
Greek freelance photographer Yiannis Kourtoglou, 31, who lives in Cyprus, told the Daily Mirror: ‘The monkey whoops were from the Spanish end. I could not see how many people were involved but they were clear. ‘They were designed to put him off his game and they clearly worked – he had a terrible match. ‘It was terrible for him and for me as well. He is a human being not a monkey.’ It is still unclear if Balotelli or the Italian bench heard the abuse but manager Cesare Prandelli previously said he would back his player in walking off.
Manchester City star Balotelli, 21, has already been singled out for abuse online with Italian neo-Nazis claiming he should not be playing for the national team.
UEFA have vowed to investigate any racism at the tournament in Poland and Ukraine and Labour’s Mr Alexander insists the players should take a stand.
He added: ‘If either host country’s fans misbehave, the teams could be taken off by the referee with the home team forfeiting the points. ‘Hopefully something like that might encourage players to challenge their supporters.’