Mario Balotelli threatened to abandon Sunday’s top-tier game between Hellas Verona and Brescia over alleged racist chants from home fans.
The Serie A match at Verona’s Stadio Bentegodi was suspended for several minutes in the second half after the visibly frustrated striker picked up the ball with his hands and volleyed it into the stand. As he walked off, players from both sides ran to embrace the 29-year-old and persuaded him to stay on the field.
A message was then read out over the stadium loudspeaker, warning fans that the game would be put on hold if the abusive slurs continued.
After play resumed, Balotelli scored a late goal, but the game finished with a 2-1 victory for Verona.
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Verona coach Ivan Juric denied that his team’s fans had been racist.
“Nothing happened today. No racists chants, nothing at all,” Juric told Sky Sport. “Racist abuse disgusts me, I get called a filthy gypsy all the time. But there was nothing today, not even a little bit, nothing. To say otherwise is a lie.”
Balotelli’s agent Mino Raiola told Agence France-Presse he supports his player: “We are with Mario and we are against all forms of racism. Racists are just ignorant.”
Balotelli, who was born in Italy to Ghanaian parents, has often been targeted by racist chants during his three stints playing in his home country. The former AC Milan and Manchester City player recently returned to Italy’s Serie A after several seasons in France.
A number of other black players have also suffered abuse from soccer fans in Italy. In September, Milan midfielder Franck Kessie was targeted by Verona fans, while Inter Milan striker Romelu Lukaku was abused by Cagliari fans.