Page last updated at 09:37 GMT, Saturday, 5 December 2009

Racist abuse against Balotelli feared at Inter-Juve tie

By Mark Duff
BBC News, Milan

Mario Balotelli
Mario Balotelli was born in Sicily to Ghanaian parents

One of the highlights of the Italian football season is in danger of being overshadowed by a row over racist abuse against one of Italy's young stars.

The clash in Turin between Juventus and league leaders Inter Milan should be a match to relish.

But much of the attention will be on how the home fans greet one man, the young Inter player Mario Balotelli.

The black striker, who is an Italian citizen, has become a target of racist abuse wherever he plays.

Balotelli has become a hate figure for a hard core of Juventus fans, not just because he poses a threat to their club's stuttering hopes of winning the Italian championship, but because he is black.

Balotelli was born in Sicily to Ghanaian immigrant parents, but they gave him up for adoption to an Italian family when he was three.

He is an Italian citizen, has already represented Italy at Under-21 level, and is being tipped for a place soon in the senior national squad.

But none of this carries any weight with his tormentors.

"There's no such thing as an Italian negro" - they chanted at one match recently - "you'll always be an African".

Balotelli's club captain says he will ask the referee to abandon Saturday evening's match if there is any repeat of the abuse.

What is certain is that Mario Balotelli has touched a raw nerve.

He symbolises a vision of a new, multicultural and diverse Italy.

The incessant abuse shows just how far the country still is from reaching that point.

As one leading commentator put it, the racists represent Italy's past and Balotelli its future.

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