Mario Balotelli suffers racist abuse, threatens walk-off after booting ball into crowd in Brescia defeat at Verona
Mario Balotelli threatened to walk off the pitch after he was the target of racist abuse during Brescia's Serie A defeat by Hellas Verona on Sunday.
Referee Maurizio Mariani paused the game and began the anti-racism protocol after Brescia's Balotelli picked up the ball early in the second half and kicked it into the crowd.
Balotelli's teammates and match officials convinced the former Manchester City and Liverpool striker to remain on the field, and an announcement followed, warning that further abuse would lead to the abandonment of the match.
Balotelli did not speak with reporters after the match but posted a video of the incident later on his Instagram account with a message thanking those who showed solidarity with him and denouncing those that "deny the evidence."
Hellas Verona coach Ivan Juric denied hearing any racist chanting.
"Racists make me sick, but today I didn't hear anything," Juric told Sky Sport Italia. "I heard a lot of whistles, the classic kind. A lot of provocation, but I heard nothing racist. It's a lie.
"I didn't hear [them], let's not talk bulls---. I heard nothing, just whistles and nothing else. When there are [racist chants], I'll say it, because they make me sick."
Brescia coach Eugenio Corini also said he didn't hear the offensive chants but added, "If the referee decided to suspend the match and ask for that announcement to be made something must have happened.
"Honestly, I was far away and I didn't hear anything," Corini said.
Corini was later fired by the club, which has struggled this season and is near the bottom of Serie A. No new manager was immediately announced.
At the time of the incident, Brescia trailed 1-0. They eventually lost 2-1, with Balotelli scoring five minutes from the final whistle.
Verona owner Maurizio Setti told Sky Sports Italia: "We heard nothing at the stadium. Racism among Verona fans does not exist."
He later added that he spoke with Balotelli after the match: "I apologized to him if someone might have said something," Setti said.
After the match, Balotelli uploaded a video on Instagram of work he has done with charities to help underprivileged children across Africa, before he followed it up with a post where he criticised those who abused him.
"Thank you to all my colleagues on and off the pitch for the solidarity and for all the messages I have received from supporters," his second post read. "Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
"You showed [yourselves] to be real men, not like those who deny the evidence."
Serie A has endured a string of racism incidents this season. On Saturday, another match was temporarily paused due to anti-territorial chants aimed at Napoli supporters by Roma fans.
Earlier in the campaign, Inter Milan forward Romelu Lukaku was subjected to racist abuse by Cagliari supporters, but the club were cleared after an independent judging panel found there was not enough evidence for any sanctions.
AC Milan's Franck Kessie and Fiorentina's Dalbert Henrique have also been targeted by racist chants but no sanctions have been handed out by the Italian league, federation or police.
In September, FIFA president Gianni Infantino lambasted Italian football authorities for failing to act over racist chanting.
"I don't see why we have to hide the truth, not talk about what happens or say that it is not serious. No, that's not how you go about it," Infantino said in an interview with Sky Italia. "It's unacceptable, absurd and surprising."
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.