By Kris Voakes | International Football Correspondent
Italian football scored yet another own goal on Tuesday after FIGC president Carlo Tavecchio was suspended by Uefa for six months for his recent racist comments.
The fact that he has been sanctioned should come as no surprise, the real issue here is how the 71-year-old could be banned while holding the post as head of the FIGC.
His election campaign should have been doomed as soon as he referred to Lazio's Cameroonian midfielder Joseph Minala as "some Opti Poba who previously ate bananas."
Italian football appeared to be in enough disarray in June when the Azzurri’s early exit from the World Cup was followed by the resignations of Tavecchio's predecessor Giancarlo Abete and coach Cesare Prandelli. The appointment of Tavecchio as the new head of the nation’s governing body plunged the game in Italy into a state of significant turmoil, which has only now been exacerbated by Uefa's decision.
No stranger to controversy, Tavecchio has caused a stir on his way to the top of Italian football. A stalwart of 15 years as the head of the Lega Nazionale Dilettanti – Italy’s amateur football structure – Tavecchio was originally backed by 18 of the 20 Serie A clubs in his bid to pip former Milan star Demetrio Albertini to the FIGC presidency in this summer's election.
But the publication of his comments regarding foreign players, when discussing the need for work permits in Italian football, should have caused irreparable damage. Unfortunately for calcio, it didn't.
"In England, they identify the players coming in and, if they are professional, they are allowed to play," Tavecchio said at a meeting of Italy's amateur leagues.
"Here instead we get some Opti Poba, 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."
His decision to label foreign players with a hypothetical name and the reference to bananas immediately caused uproar, and there has since been evidence that Tavecchio, who had been the FIGC’s vice-president since 2009, made a similarly offensive remark regarding women in football.
“We intend to give dignity to women in football on an aesthetic view as well,” he told Rai 3 in May 2014.
“Until now it was thought women were handicapped subjects compared to the male in stamina, resistance, physical and athletic terms. Instead, we have found they are very similar."
The pressure on him resulted in a public apology regarding the ‘banana’ comment, while Fifa wrote to the FIGC asking for a full explanation of the incident. Tavecchio lost all hope of winning over the likes of Fiorentina, Sassuolo, Sampdoria and Cesena, all of whom decided not to back him any longer.
Yet some high-profile members of Italian football administration fought his cause long and hard, including Milan joint-CEO Adriano Galliani.
“It was certainly an unhappy joke, but it ends there,” said Galliani. “Tavecchio's life has always been devoted to institutions, it's certain he is no racist and it was just a little joke.”
Those words come despite Galliani’s colleague Barbara Berlusconi having been the subject of a stinging riposte from Tavecchio after she doubted the new president’s suitability for the top role.
“The dear lady does not decide on who will be nominated as the new President of the FIGC,” Tavecchio countered. “It is down to the delegates of 1.5m registered members.”
Some still regard Tavecchio as a representative of the future, despite his rather archaic comments, with Lega Serie B president Andrea Abodi insisting: “Demetrio Albertini is a sporting director, but he still needs to gain experience in leadership. It may seem a paradox, but Tavecchio stands for the new.”
But a country which only last year courted headlines when Kevin-Prince Boateng led Milan off the field due to racist abuse in a friendly should have turned its back on Tavecchio. Instead, he was put in charge of its footballing future and has now been banned by Uefa for six months.
It presents a terrible image for Italian football and is a massive step backwards for a nation which had seemed to be making strides in the right direction over the last few years.