Italy's Minister for Integration Cecile Kyenge says racists feel threatened by Mario Balotelli.
Congolese-born surgeon Kyenge, who endured racist slurs this week when bananas were thrown at her during a political rally, spoke to Gazzetta dello Sport about the growing problem in Italy and how to tackle the issue.
"If you are a good administrator or political leader, then you have to be able to recognise this problem, understand the causes and find the right way to communicate and react," she explained.
"Racism is helped by the economic crisis, by fear, insecurity and an idea of diversity that is never presented as enriching the culture.
"After all, what’s happening to me also happened to Balotelli. While he was an Italian player and that's it, especially when playing abroad, he was in some way accepted. Then he represented Italy, playing for the Nazionale, scoring and winning. At that point, some people felt threatened."
Kyenge's comments come in the wake of another scandal where Milan's Kevin Constant walked off the pitch during his side's TIM Trophy match against Sassuolo last week, apparently in response to racist insults from the crowd.
"It's a little bit like what happened when I was made minister," the 48-year-old politician continued.
"It all comes down to fear of diversity, which is why we must change our way of communicating what diversity really is.
"A multi-ethnic Nazionale is inevitable, natural and unstoppable," she added, in response to the fact the only black players in the Italy national team are Balotelli and Angelo Ogbonna.
"Sport is waking up to the problem of racism and we must multiply our initiatives. From Tuesday we start a three-year plan to fight racial discrimination. Will I go to Brazil for the World Cup? I hope so."