Prior to Italy's Euro 2012 match with England, an Italian newspaper published a picture depicting Italy star Mario Balotelli— who is black— as King Kong swatting soccer balls while clutching the top of Big Ben.
There was concern by players competing in Euro 2012 that racism could be a problem with fans in Ukraine and Poland. I bet Balotelli didn't expect the racial insensitivity to come from his own country.
On Sunday, La Gazzetta dello Sport published a photo-illustration of the star striker with an accompanying story about the upcoming match. The intent of the cartoon seemed to be that Balotelli and the Italians would beat England, but the execution was done in slightly poor taste.
Balotelli was racially abused at the Euro 2012 opener after hundreds of Spain fans made monkey noises at the international soccer star. He threatened to walk off if he was harassed at any other matches. In Italy's group-play match against Croatia, fans directed racist chants towards Balotelli and threw a banana onto the pitch during play. The Croatian Football Federation was fined 80,000 Euros ($106,000) for the fan's actions.
Before the tournament, Balotelli— who was born in Palermo, Sicily— but is of Ghanaian descent, had expressed concerns about racial tension in the two host countries.
"I cannot bear racism, it's unacceptable to me. If it had happened again, I would straight away leave the pitch and go home. We are in 2012. It can't happen," said the 21-year old.
Italy advanced against England with a 4-2 shootout win after both teams failed to score in regulation and overtime. Italy will meet Germany in the semifinals on Thursday.