Rome: AC Milan manager Massimiliano Allegri has hit back at claims from the mayor of Verona that Mario Balotelli is a troublemaker, saying the problem of racism lies with supporters not the Italy attacker.
"The racism problem isn't anything to do with Mario, but rather with a lack of culture on the part of people who go to the stadium and behave in a certain way towards players with a different skin colour," Allegri said on Friday.
Allegri was speaking at a news conference ahead of their Serie A season-opening match at Hellas Verona on Saturday. Verona mayor Flavio Tosi, also speaking before the promoted local team's first Serie A match in more than a decade, said Italy striker Balotelli brings abuse upon himself.
"Mario is a troublemaker. There are lots of black players (in Italy), and those who don't wind up opposition fans don't have any problems," Tosi, who represents the separatist Northern League party, said.
"Balotelli is a formidable player... but he knows how to be irksome when he's out on the pitch and that exasperates people. He even managed to have issues with Chievo fans, who most certainly are not racist," he said referring to the city's other first division team.
However, Tosi appealed to Hellas Verona fans not to abuse Milan's black players and backed the closing of spectator sections or even whole stadiums should fans racially abuse players.
Lazio and AS Roma will have to play matches with the hardcore fan sections of the Olympic Stadium in Rome closed after incidents of racist chanting.
"If chants come from four idiotic individuals then it's right to close the sector. If it's the whole stadium at fault then it's correct to close the entire ground," the Gazzetta Dello Sport quoted Tosi as saying.
Tosi's party has been embroiled in a series of racism scandals. He was the only Northern League politician to publicly apologise to Italy's Minister for Integration Cecile Kyenge after Senate vice-president and fellow party member Roberto Calderoli said she looked like a orangutan.
Juventus manager Antonio Conte also backed a hardline approach with racist supporters, pleading with journalists to not give them any attention.
"The thing that needs to be done is that you, both in written and television journalism, stop giving attention to these people, who are proud to see themselves on TV," Conte told reporters at Friday's press conference for their clash at Sampdoria.
Hellas Verona's match with Milan will be their first in the top flight for 11 years after securing promotion from Serie B on the final day of last season.