Football: Italy's pressing issues overshadowed by 'banana eaters' row

Football: Italy's pressing issues overshadowed by 'banana eaters' row
A picture taken on November 24, 2008 shows Italian FA vice president Carlo Tavecchio during a press conference at a hotel in Milan. FIFA called for an investigation on July 28, 2014 into alleged racist comments made by Tavecchio, the frontrunner in the race for the top job in Italian football, when discussing Italy's overseas players.

Italy's dismal World Cup performance has added to the already depressing scenario of Serie A decline, falling attendances, racism, match-fixing and a failure to find new talent.

Yet, with an Italian federation (FIGC) presidential election looming on Monday, those pressing issues have been sidelined by the racism row involving Carlo Tavecchio, one of the two candidates for the position vacated by Giancarlo Abete.

Tavecchio was addressing the thorny subject of the lack of opportunities for young Italian players in the professional clubs when he described African footballers as "banana eaters" and referred to a fictitious player he named Opti Poba. "In England, they identify the players coming in and, if they are professional, they are allowed to play," said 71-year-old who is vying for the job with former Italy and AC Milan midfielder Demetrio Albertini. "Here instead we get 'Opti Poba', who previously ate bananas and then suddenly becomes a first-team player with Lazio." Far from being an off-the-cuff comment made in the middle of a media scrum or in a private conversation, Tavecchio's remark came during a speech to an assembly of Italy's amateur league association (LND), of which he is president.

Previously expected to sweep to victory, Tavecchio quickly lost the support of the players and coaches associations as well as a number of Serie A and Serie B clubs.

But he retained the backing of Lega Pro, comprising the third and fourth division clubs, and LDN, who between them hold 51 per cent of the votes, enough to guarantee victory over Albertini.

The campaign comes at a critical time for Italian football but its focus has turned to whether Tavecchio is a suitable candidate.

There has been almost no debate, for example, on Albertini's proposals to cut the number of clubs in Serie A from 20 to 18 and force professional teams to have a set number of home-grown players in their squads.

Albertini would also like a domestic version of UEFA's financial fair play plan to force clubs to live within their means, another suggestion which has been overlooked.

The subject of match-fixing has also been swept under the carpet and there has been not a murmur on what to do about stadium ownership, the issue which, more than any other, is regarded as holding Italian football back.

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