West News Wire: The comments made this weekend by international volleyball star Paola Egonu about leaving the Italian national team due to racial abuse have sparked a flood of support on social media and a discussion about racism in the nation’s sports community.

The Black athlete is heard telling her agent in a video that a fan put online on Saturday after Italy defeated the United States to win the bronze medal at the women’s world championship: “This is my last game with the national team.”

She said, “You can’t comprehend. “They continue to question why I am Italian.”

The 23-year-old did not name the person in question, but Giuseppe Manfredi, the chairman of the Italian volleyball federation, informed local media that Egonu received racial abuse on social media following Thursday’s semifinal defeat to Brazil.

In a statement commenting on Egonu’s remarks, Manfredi expressed his sorrow for the attacks and noted that Egonu had represented Italy at all levels.

In an interview with Sky News after the publication of the video, Egonu said that rather than retiring from the national team, she would like to take a break stressing that it was due to being the target of racist comments among other issues.

“To think that I have read people asking me why I am Italian makes me wonder why I should represent these kinds of people,” she said.

Egonu, one of the world’s best players, has long been praised for being a key member of the national team, but she’s also been a frequent target of criticism following some of the team’s losses.

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On Sunday, Italy’s outgoing Prime Minister Mario Draghi called Egonu to express his support, and his office described the athlete on Twitter as a “source of pride to Italian sport” who “will have future opportunities to win other trophies wearing the national team jersey”.

Many fans and other politicians also took to social media to express their solidarity with Egonu.

For Nicola Sbetti, professor of sports and international relations at the University of Bologna, the denial of racism as a cause for Egonu’s comments was part of the problem.

Italian sports have long been plagued with racism.

In 2017, striker Mario Balotelli, who was born in the southern city of Palermo to Ghanaian parents, was racially abused by fans of the national football team during a match against Romania.


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