Verona say abuse of Balotelli was not racist
Verona head coach Ivan Juric has denied there was any racist abuse directed towards Brescia striker Mario Balotelli, who threatened to walk off during the second half of the Serie A defeat at Stadio Marc’Antonio Bentegodi.
Television pictures showed the former Manchester City and Liverpool forward pick up the ball and kick it into the stands before making to leave the pitch in the 54th minute of the match.
Balotelli was convinced to stay 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.
The 29-year-old posted a cryptic message on his official Instagram account.
It had a short video of children chanting his name, as well as a message from We Africa To Red Earth founder Adriano Nuzzo who was speaking out against racism. Balotelli added the hashtags “#BASTA #STOPASAP #LOVE”.
Juric, though, insisted there was no racist element to any abuse directed towards Balotelli by the home supporters.
“I’m not afraid to say: today there was nothing. Lots of whistling and teasing against a great player, but there was nothing else,” Juric said at a press conference, reported on the Verona official website.
“I have also taken so many insults over the years, I know what it means, but today there has been nothing.
“On the reason of the reaction you have to ask him. When there is racism, I will have no problem saying so because it sucks, even if it comes from my fans.
“But today I heard nothing. We don’t create a case where there isn’t, it would be a lie.”
Verona president Maurizio Setti backed up Juric’s comments, saying the club’s fans were “absolutely not racist”.
Setti said in a statement: “It is wrong to generalise, speaking of racist choirs and fans.
“If out of 20,000 people a couple may, perhaps, have said something, then those two or three people, if there are, we are ready to take them and punish them because I strongly condemn any such incident.
“There are many black players who wear yellow and blue from youth to the first team, racism is a discourse that for us does not exist and Verona is not the right place for such generalisations.”
Setti added: “I met Balotelli and I apologised in the event that someone might have said something to him.”
Meanwhile, Balotelli’s agent Mino Raiola offered full support to the player.
“We are with Mario. We are against all forms of racism. Racists are ignorant,” he said in a Twitter post.
Brescia manager Eugenio Corini felt the players had all rallied around Balotelli under testing circumstances.
“Mario is a good lad. He heard something from the stands and his team-mates did well to reassure him,” Corini said in a press conference.
“The referee also read the situation well by temporarily suspending the game.
“From there on, the match became more difficult and it was played in a strange atmosphere, but we thought we had done enough to balance it out (for a draw).”