Mario Balotelli has found himself at the centre of a new race row, this time sparked by a deeply offensive cartoon depicting him as King Kong in a leading Italian newspaper.
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On the morning of Italy’s European Championship encounter with England, Gazzetta dello Sport published a drawing of a giant Balotelli atop Big Ben swatting away footballs in the same way King Kong did aircrafts atop New York’s Empire State Building in the film.
The Balotelli camp was understood to be outraged by the cartoon and Gazzetta have issued an apology.
‘It wasn’t our cartoonist’s best product. In these times we need a bit more moderation, caution and good taste. But we have always fought against racism and condemned booing against Balotelli as unacceptable,’ said the Milan-based newspaper.
A spokesman for the anti-racism organisation Kick It Out said: ‘Mario is such an important person in Italian football.
‘Aspiring players in Italy who want to follow in his footsteps could wonder what support they will have when they get to his level when they see cartoons like that.
‘It is not the first time we have seen this sort of depiction of Mario and we think the media have a responsibility. How do they think they can portray him like that?’
Journalists in Italy were horrified. Luigi Garlando said: ‘It is an unfortunate cartoon. It is hard to defend the right of satire against censorship in this case and I would never have allowed it in my newspaper.’
Balotelli, now preparing for Thursday’s semi-final against Germany in Warsaw, said before Euro 2012 that he would walk off the pitch if he was racially abused.
On Tuesday UEFA also opened disciplinary proceedings against the Spanish football federation and the Russian football union for alleged racist behaviour and chanting by fans.
European football’s governing body fined the Croatian football federation €30,000 after supporters threw fireworks and displayed ‘inappropriate and racist banners’ during a match against Spain. It was Croatia’s second racism-related sanction of the tournament.
In Krakow the focus for the Italians remained on trying to do to Germany what they did to England on Sunday night in Kiev.
Andrea Pirlo, the architect of England’s destruction, appeared before the media and had few words of encouragement for Roy Hodgson’s beaten quarter-finalists.
‘Our approach to the game against Germany will be the same as against England,’ he said. ‘This is because it is the only way we can play. We have to take advantage of our quality, our technique. But, unlike England, Germany can create many threats to our defence.
‘England played a very prudent and careful way. They were sitting back all match, like Chelsea did in the Champions League final. They tried to keep that same shape. For them, going to the penalty shootout was already a good result.’
Pirlo said his stunning chip penalty was a key moment in the game because it was a huge psychological blow to England.
‘I didn’t celebrate the penalty because at that point there was nothing to celebrate,’ he said. ‘But it was really relevant to the match and our win. This changed the course of the match.
‘For me, Joe Hart seemed to be very confident in himself and it seemed to be a psychological blow. I needed to do something to beat him. Penalties are a very personal thing.
‘When you have to shoot a penalty you have to be confident in yourself.’
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