- (Photo: Reuters/Tony Gentile)
Black Italian soccer player Mario Balotelli has threatened to leave any games during Euro 2012, the upcoming international soccer tournament, if he faces any racism during the top championship event.
The striker, who plays for English club Manchester City, is expected to feature in the Italian team in its tournament games this year, but is well aware of the racism problem that threatens to overshadow the competition taking place in Ukraine and Poland, which begins June 8th.
"If [racism] does happen I would leave the pitch and go home," Balotelli, 21, was quoted as saying by the BBC in an interview. "Racism is unacceptable to me, I cannot bear it. We are in 2012, it can't happen.
"If someone throws a banana at me in the street, I will go to prison because I will kill him," he added.
Sections of Eastern European soccer fans have been notorious for making Nazi salutes and directing racist chants and gestures against black players, such as throwing bananas at them. The problem is no less persistent in the Ukraine and Poland. Just last week, former England captain Sol Campbell advised fans to forget about traveling to the tournament, as they would risk their well being in a region where racial tensions are very high.
"I think they were wrong (to award Euro 2012 to Poland and Ukraine), because what they should say is that if you want this tournament you sort your problems out," said Campbell, who is black.
"Until we see that you have sorted it out, you are never going to get the tournament. You do not deserve these prestigious tournaments in your country," he added.
Balotelli will not be the only black player at the European competition, although he is the only one from the Italian squad. England and France in particular have a host of black players who could face racist chants, despite hopes that such displays are deterred as much as possible.
Despite UEFA, the European soccer government body, and FIFA, the world soccer body, doing their best to promote campaigns urging an end to racism, many still expect to see troubling scenes at this summer's tournament.