(Bloomberg) –An Italian volleyball star is considering quitting the national squad over racist attacks after helping her team take third place in the world championships.
“This is my last game with the national team,” Paola Egonu, a 23-year-old born in Italy of Nigerian descent, was heard telling her manager in a video posted on Twitter on Saturday. She spoke after the team’s 3-0 victory over the US to secure the bronze medal. “You can’t understand. They asked me why I am Italian.”
Outgoing Prime Minister Mario Draghi later called Egonu, a two-time Olympian, on Sunday to express his support.
Il video shock con le dichiarazioni della Egonu 😡😡😡 Forza Paola 💪💪💪
Fonte video 📹 @whatsupban #MWCH2022 🏆 | #LaNazionale | #ItalVolley | #Egonu pic.twitter.com/DOoafTLbc1
— Eurosport IT (@Eurosport_IT) October 15, 2022
Egonu later clarified in TV interviews that she wants to take a “pause,” and that she’ll consider whether to rejoin the national team at a later stage.
The athlete, who now plays for a top team in Istanbul, has often been a lightning rod for public frustration when Italy’s team lost a key game, as was the case earlier this week in the world cup semifinal.
“It makes me laugh reading people who ask why I am Italian,” Egonu said in an interview with Sky Sport. “I ask myself why I represent such people.”
Italy’s sports is rife with racism, with Black players routinely subjected to booing and chants from fans of rival teams. Beyond sports, the only person of color to have been appointed a government minister, Cecile Kyenge, was regularly targeted with racial slurs while she served as minister for integration almost a decade ago.
Cara Paola, si chiama razzismo, si chiamano razzisti, e fanno tanto male. Ma tu non sei sola: è la nostra lotta, e come tu insegni a tutti noi dal campo, insieme siamo forti e vinciamo.
Viva l’Italia, e viva la nostra meravigliosa Paola Egonu 🇮🇹 https://t.co/qNsDO7lIgd
— Elena Bonetti (@elenabonetti) October 15, 2022
The attacks against Egonu signal “a stereotyped, racist mindset,” Italy’s anti-racial-discrimination office said in a tweet. “It’s called racism, they are called racists,” outgoing Equal Opportunities Minister Elena Bonetti said after Egonu’s comments.
Egonu was already the subject of attacks after she announced she was in a same-sex relationship in 2018.
The right-wing coalition that won last month’s Italian election chose as speaker of the lower house an ultra-conservative known for hard-line positions on LGBTQ rights and same-sex marriage, as well as for his admiration of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Read more: Same-Sex Parents in Italy Ask What’s Next After Meloni’s Win
After their phone call, Draghi said Egonu was “a pride of Italian sport” and that she’ll have “future opportunities to other trophies wearing the national team jersey,” he said on Twitter.
🇮🇹🏐 Piena solidarietà alla campionessa di volley Paola #Egonu dal Presidente Draghi nella telefonata di questa mattina. L’atleta azzurra è un orgoglio dello sport italiano, avrà future occasioni per vincere altri trofei indossando la maglia della Nazionale pic.twitter.com/ZZnWLnhM3P
— Palazzo_Chigi (@Palazzo_Chigi) October 16, 2022
(Updates with Draghi phone call from third paragraph.)
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