Brescia striker Mario Balotelli has expressed his gratitude for the support he received in the wake of racist abuse which saw him set to walk off at Verona – and claims those responsible should be ashamed.
The former Manchester City and Liverpool forward picked up the ball and kicked it into the stands before making to leave the pitch in the 54th minute of the Serie A match at Stadio Marc’Antonio Bentegodi.
Footage later appeared on social media which revealed Balotelli was reacting to racist abuse, with monkey chants clearly audible.
Balotelli was convinced to stay on by team-mates, Verona players and officials before referee Maurizio Mariani initiated the anti-racism protocol.
The game was temporarily suspended while a message was read out by the stadium announcer warning that the match would be abandoned if racist abuse was to occur.
It was the second time such a protocol has been followed in Serie A this weekend after the game between Roma and Napoli was briefly halted when territorial chants were directed at the Napoli supporters.
When action resumed, Verona went on to take a 2-0 lead before Balotelli curled in a 20-yard effort.
After the 2-1 defeat, Balotelli was filmed walking through the mixed zone without stopping, before posting a cryptic anti-racism message on his official Instagram account.
Verona head coach Ivan Juric told a post-match press conference there was no racist element to any abuse directed towards Balotelli – a stance which was also taken by the club’s president Maurizio Setti.
Later on Sunday, Balotelli posted an update on Instagram, including both a video of the on-pitch incident and footage taken from the stands.
The former Manchester City and Liverpool forward said: “Thanks to all the colleagues on the field and off for the solidarity I had with me, and all the messages received from you fans.
“Thank you very much. You have proven to be true men not like those who deny the evidence. #notoracism.”
Balotelli included a video of the Verona fans making the chants added in his Instagram ‘stories’. He wrote: “The ‘people’ of this curva (section of seating) who made the monkey chants. Shame on you, shame on you, shame on you.
“In front of your children, wives, relatives, parents, friends and acquaintances…. shame.”
Balotelli’s agent Mino Raiola was quick to offer full support to the player, as was Brescia manager Eugenio Corini.
The club later issued a statement criticising Verona’s senior managerial representatives for “an attempt to deny or minimise the gravity of the incident”.
Brescia said the incidents had also been heard by players on the pitch from both sides and expected the Italian Football Federation to open an investigation.
“This afternoon it happened to one of our players, but it could have happened to anyone else, of any team and the sentence should be as equally firm and determined,” the club statement added. “Football is for everyone and everyone deserves the same respect.”
We must all work together to ensure there are no more displays of intolerance of any kind.Italy manager Roberto Mancini
Italy manager Roberto Mancini, who also worked with Balotelli at Inter Milan and Manchester City, hit out at racism in the game.
“Football is made to unite, we must all work together to ensure there are no more displays of intolerance of any kind,” Mancini said on Twitter.
Piara Powar, the executive director of the Fare network, which combats racism and discrimination in football across Europe, praised Balotelli for his actions.
Power, though, feels the situation in Italy is “out of control”.
He said in a statement to the PA news agency on Sunday evening: “Mario Balotelli has taken a stand against racism and we applaud him for it.
“But the question many people are asking is why other players on the pitch, his team-mates and players from Verona, thought it more appropriate to tell him to stay and suffer instead of joining him in solidarity?
“There is so much to do in Italy, so much education, so much regulatory work, the situation is out of control.
“We will add it to the list of incidents in Italy and present it to the authorities, but there seems little prospect of effective action being taken. It is a depressing picture.”