The European Championship was plunged into arguably its most serious racism row yet yesterday after it emerged a banana may have been thrown at Mario Balotelli.
UEFA confirmed yesterday afternoon they were “looking into” reports a photographer witnessed a steward retrieving a banana from the pitch during Italy’s game with Croatia on Thursday.
The FARE (Football Against Racism in Europe) network also announced their observers heard between 300 and 500 Croatia fans chanting monkey noises at Balotelli in the 1-1 Group C draw in Poznan.
UEFA confirmed they were aware of the racism claims, saying: “We are looking into the reports.”
If Thursday’s purported banana-throwing incident is shown to be intended as an insult towards Balotelli, the fallout would be potentially the biggest yet at a tournament that has been dogged by allegations of racist abuse.
Balotelli said before Euro 2012 that he would “kill” anyone who threw a banana at him in the street and threatened to walk off the pitch if racially abused.
UEFA are already probing allegations the Manchester City striker, 21, was subjected to monkey chants in Italy’s opening match against Spain last Sunday.
That may have been missed by FARE observers but Thursday’s apparent repeat was not.
European football’s leading anti-racism campaigners posted on their Twitter feed: “FARE observers report between 300 and 500 supporters of Croatia involved in racially abusing Mario Balotelli at last nights match in Poznan.
“UEFA received the observers reports (yesterday). We are working with them to provide as much information as possible.
“We congratulate the Italian fans for their support of Balotelli (on Thursday). Many sang his name to drown out the monkey chants #no2racism.”
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli, who on Monday rejected claims Balotelli was racially abused during the game against Spain, insisted yesterday he was unaware of Thursday’s alleged banana-throwing incident.
“No, I haven’t seen anything,” he said.
The Italian Football Federation (FIGC) later confirmed the claims and accompanying photograph had been brought to their attention but added that no one from their delegation witnessed the incident during the game.
A spokesman said: “There’s not any official complaint at the moment about that.
“It’s not quite clear where this photograph was shot at the game and whether it [the banana] was launched against Mario Balotelli.”
As well as incidents surrounding Balotelli, UEFA are looking into allegations Czech Republic defender Theodor Gebre Selassie was subjected to monkey chants during his side’s Group A opener against Russia last Friday.
Holland players claimed they heard racist chanting during an open training session in Krakow last Wednesday.
The FIGC, meanwhile, have written to UEFA expressing “great regret” that their national anthem was booed by Spain and Croatia fans during their Euro 2012 Group C matches.