The head of the Italian football federation is in hot water following alleged anti-Semitic comments he made, The Associated Press (AP) reported Sunday.
The official, Carlo Tavecchio, allegedly made the remarks to the online outlet Soccer Life in June while discussing the sale of an amateur league"s headquarters to real estate mogul Cesare Anticoli. The Italian daily Corriere della Sera reported the remarks on Sunday.
"It was bought by that lousy Jew Anticoli," it is claimed Tavecchio is heard saying, on an audio recording of the conversation posted on the newspaper"s website.
Tavecchio also allegedly made offensive remarks against homosexuals, reportedly telling the website, "I don"t have anything against gays but it"s better to keep them away from me."
He later told Corriere he is being targeted for blackmail and that he does not recall uttering the remarks, adding that they "might have been manipulated", according to AP.
Quoted Sunday by the Italian sports news website Gazzetta World, Tavecchio said, "I"m obviously the victim of blackmail...I have excellent relations with the Jewish community and not just in a sporting sense. I supported the position of Israel in the last FIFA congress."
He further added, "Any attempt to discredit and slander me through illegal methods, based on ideals which are unfortunately very common, will be pursued in the appropriate manner."
Gazzetta World noted that the 72-year-old Tavecchio is no stranger to controversy, having previously made a racist remark about black players "eating bananas", for which he was slapped with a UEFA ban.
Italian Jewish and gay rights groups called for Tavecchio"s removal, according to AP.
Renzo Ulivieri, the president of the Italian coaches" association, called Tavecchio"s alleged remarks out of place, whether blackmail was involved.
"Certain words shouldn"t be pronounced by anyone, and certainly not by the president of the Italian football federation," Ulivieri was quoted as having said.
The incident comes amid a rise in global anti-Semitism, and particularly in Europe.
Italy, like many other European countries, has experienced a wave of anti-Semitic attacks and incitement. Among other incidents, vandals scrawled anti-Semitic graffiti Rome, and a prominent Italian philosopher issued an alarming call to "shoot Zionists".
Last year, Italy expelled a Moroccan imam caught on video inciting violence against Jews during Israel's offensive against Hamas terrorists in Gaza.
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