Rome: Carlo Tavecchio, the favourite to become the next Italian Football Federation (FIGC) president, has been caught up in a racism storm after referring to African players as "banana eaters".
The influx of foreign players has been a hot topic since the national team crashed out of the World Cup in the group stage and 71-year-old Tavecchio suggested Italy should replicate England`s stringent requirements for non-EU players.
"In England, they identify the players coming in and, if they are professional, they are allowed to play," Tavecchio said at the summer assembly of Italy`s amateur leagues (LND).
"Here instead we get `Opti Pobà`, who previously ate bananas and then suddenly becomes a first team player with Lazio.
"That`s how it is here. In England, you need to demonstrate what you have on your CV and your pedigree."
Questioned by reporters about the comments afterwards, Tavecchio claimed that he could not remember what he had said in his own speech.
"I can`t remember if I said the word `banana` but I was referring to the CV and professionalism required by English football for players who come from Africa or other countries." he explained.
"If anyone has interpreted my speech as offensive, I offer my apologies."
Tavecchio, the head of the LND, is expected to beat former AC Milan and Italy midfielder Demetrio Albertini to the top job in the Aug. 11 vote. The pair are both currently vice-presidents of the FIGC.
The battle for control of Italian soccer`s governing body comes after the resignation of former president Giancarlo Abete, who stepped down immediately after Italy`s embarrassing early exit from the World Cup.