Update (November 6, 2019): Italian soccer team Hellas Verona FC handed down a 10-year ban on Tuesday to an outspoken fan group leader. Luca Castellini downplayed racist monkey chants toward soccer star Mario Balotelli and said he isn't Italian because he's Black.

Verona has been heavily criticized since Sunday’s match between Hellas Verona FC and Brescia Calcio when the crowd erupted in monkey chants every time Balotelli touched the ball. At one point during the match, the soccer player kicked the ball into the stands in frustration and threatened to walk off the field before players from both sides apologized. 

Following new league rules, the stadium stopped the match for five minutes and displayed signs demanding fans to stop the monkey chants. 

This has been a chronic problem across Europe for decades but has gained international prominence with more high-profile Black players. 

In an interview with Radio Cafe after the match, Castellini said the crowd was not racist and that Balotelli was not actually Italian because his parents are from Ghana.  

“Balotelli is Italian because he has Italian citizenship, but he can never be completely Italian. The chants came from only four people, who were only heard by the people who recorded the video. Balotelli only heard it in his own head. We also have a negro in our team who scored yesterday, and all of the Verona fans applauded him,” Castellini said.

“We have an identity culture of a certain kind, we are irreverent supporters. We make fun of bald players, the one with long hair, the southern player and the player of color but not with political or racist instincts. This is folklore, it stops all there,” he added.

Castellini is in charge of rabid fan groups dedicated to specific soccer teams across Italy.

The team released a statement condemning Castellini’s comments and banning him from matches until June 30, 2030.

“Hellas Verona FC announces that it has adopted a disqualification measure against Mr. Luca Castellini, who expressed opinions that are seriously contrary to those that distinguish the ethical principles and values of our club. A suspension has been handed to the subject until 30 June 2030,” the team said in a statement on their website.

Serie A's disciplinary commission is also forcing the stadium to close a section for one game as punishment. At a meeting on Monday, Italian FA president Gabriele Gravina spoke about proactive methods they could use to stop Italian fans from shouting monkey chants at Black players. 

"Balotelli is Italian, he proved to be more Italian than those who offended him. The FIGC will not give up until we put an end to these deplorable episodes. We must respond with advanced technological systems, which remove all alibis. Hence the need for an ever-closer collaboration between our Public Prosecutor's Office and the Ministry of the Interior for the identification of the subjects. In this the FIGC claims a central role," Gravina said.

Despite the actions taken by the team and proactive moves the league took, the city of Verona has doubled down on the racism. On Tuesday, Andrea Bacciga and three other city councilors published a motion asking the mayor to sue Balotelli for defaming the town with claims of racism.

Balotelli was born in Italy to Ghanian parents and was adopted at the age of 3. He has become one of the greatest Italian soccer players ever, nearly winning the country a European Championship in 2012. 

On Instagram, Balotelli responded to Castellini, calling him an “imbecile.”

"You are getting into social and historical situations that are bigger than you, you small-minded people," he said.

In another Instagram post on Sunday, Balotelli said, “The ’people’ of this curva who made the monkey chants. Shame on you, shame on you, shame on you. In front of your children, wives, relatives, parents, friends and acquaintances…shame.”

Original (November 4, 2019): Italian soccer player, Mario Balotelli, was the target of racist chants during Sunday’s Serie A Cub Brescia away game against Verona. 

Soccer fans were making monkey noises toward the 29-year-old throughout the match, and in the 55th minute, he had enough. Balotelli had possession of the ball and suddenly turned and kicked it into the stands where the chants had been originating. 

Balotelli threatened to walk off the field after the referee, Maurizio Mariani, charged him with unsportsmanlike conduct.

Players from both teams quickly stepped in, calming down Balotelli and telling officials about the racial abuse he had been receiving throughout the game. Mariani suspended the game and had the stadium announcer inform fans the game would be ended if they continued to taunt the Brescia player.

The game resumed after about five minutes.  

Balotelli returned to the match stronger, scoring in the 85th minute. Ultimately, Brescia fell to Verona 2-1. 

After the game, the Ghanian player made a statement about the incident. 

“Thanks to all the colleagues on and off the field for the solidarity expressed toward me and all of the messages received from you fans. A heartfelt thanks. You've shown yourself to be real men, not like those who deny the evidence,” the statement read.  

Luca Castellini, the head of Hellas Verona soccer club, made racist comments on Facebook saying, Balotelli will never be Italian. 

“Balotelli is Italian because he has Italian citizenship but he will never be able to be totally Italian,” he wrote.

Castellini denied the alleged racism against Balotelli, referencing the Black player on his team. 

“We have a negro in our team and he scored yesterday and all of Verona applauded,” Castellini told ANSA

In an interview with Sports Illustrated in 2013, Balotelli discussed the racism he receives regularly as a soccer player. 

"You can't delete racism," he told Sports Illustrated. "It's like a cigarette. You can't stop smoking if you don't want to, and you can't stop racism if people don't want to. But I'll do everything I can to help."