After publishing a cartoon which depicted the Italian on top of Big Ben in a King Kong-esque pose, La Gazzetta dello Sport has been forced to confess the sketch was in bad taste.
The newspaper published a cartoon following Italy’s quarterfinal victory over England on Sunday, in which the Manchester City striker was seen perched upon Big Ben swatting away soccer balls, presumably drawing comparisons with the gorilla movie star.
The cartoon prompted a vast number of complaints, not least of all from Balotelli’s camp, and the publication has since been forced to admit it should have shown greater "moderation, caution and good taste."
Italy’s largest-selling sport newspaper went on to admit the sketch "maybe wasn't the cartoonist's best work," adding: "We have always fought against racism, and condemned booing against Balotelli as unacceptable."
Despite the newspaper’s omission of guilt, the matter shows no sign of cooling down. Anti-racism group Kick it Out believes the media have a vital role to play in the battle to rid soccer of racism and says an example should be made of how to treat high-profile players such as Balotelli.
"Mario's such an important person in Italian football,” a spokesman for the group said. "Aspiring players in Italy who want to follow in his footsteps could wonder what support they will have when they get to his level when they see cartoons like that.
"It is not the first time we have seen this sort of depiction of Mario and we think the media have a responsibility. How do they think they can portray him like that?"