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Head of Italian Soccer Insists He Is Not Homophobic or Anti-Semitic Despite Recorded Comments

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By ROBERT MACKEY NOV. 2, 2015

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    Photo The president of the Italian Soccer Federation, Carlo Tavecchio, at a soccer match between Italy and the Netherlands in Bari, Italy, in 2014. Credit Gregorio Borgia/Associated Press

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    Despite the release of recorded comments in which he said he preferred to avoid Jews and homosexuals, the president of the Italian Soccer Federation, Carlo Tavecchio, insisted on Monday that he was neither anti-Semitic nor homophobic.

    In the recording, made last year by a sports journalist and published on Sunday by Corriere della Sera, the Milan daily, Mr. Tavecchio can be heard discussing the sale of a building to a “lousy Jew.” Although he quickly added, “I have nothing against the Jews,” Mr. Tavecchio, a former economist and politician who now oversees Italy’s most popular sport, went on to say that “it is best to keep them at bay.”

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    A short time later, when the conversation with Massimiliano Giacomini of the Italian website SoccerLife.it turned to rumors about the private life of another former soccer official, Mr. Tavecchio said: “But is it true that he is a homosexual? I have nothing against them, but keep them away from me. I am very normal.”

    Mr. Tavecchio, 72, was elected to lead the federation last year despite telling an audience of youth and amateur soccer representatives that Italian soccer was in trouble because the main professional league had recruited too many Africans who were plucked from obscurity while “eating bananas.”

    In response to the recording, Mr. Tavecchio complained in a statement on the federation’s website that it had been made without his knowledge, during what he took to be a private conversation, not an interview.

    He also said that those accusing him of anti-Semitism and homophobia had failed to give proper weight to the two asides in which he said, “I have nothing against” either group.

    “I have never discriminated against anyone” for being gay, he said. “I respect everyone’s choices,” he said, before adding that he did not think homosexuality should be a crime.

    Mr. Tavecchio also thanked Israel’s ambassador to Italy, Naor Gilon, who noted on Sunday that Mr. Tavecchio had been helpful in quashing efforts against Israel in world soccer’s governing body, FIFA.

    On Monday, however, Mr. Gilon said that “there can be no doubt that, as an Israeli, a Jew and the member of a minority, I cannot accept in the slightest the words spoken by” Mr. Tavecchio.

    Flavio Romani, the head of Italy’s national gay rights group, Arcigay, said in a statement that Mr. Tavecchio should be kept “far away from a position of responsibility in sport.”

    Giovanni Malago, the president of Italy’s Olympic committee, condemned the comments, but said there was “no technical or legal mechanism” for his group to take action against the head of the soccer federation.

    The uproar over Mr. Tavecchio’s remarks came days after a mainstream Greek newspaper published a caricature of Greece’s former finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, as a medieval Jewish moneylender to illustrate a column about his paid appearance on Italian television.

    The Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece denounced the “blatant anti-Semitism of the cartoon” in a letter to the editor of the paper, Ta Nea, calling the cartoon “unacceptable” and “mostly dangerous as it refers to religious hatred and perpetuates old prejudices and stereotypes that should not have place in our contemporary society.” (Mr. Varoufakis is not Jewish.)

    In response to the letter in Monday’s edition of the paper, the group said, the columnist George Papachristou “criticized the Greek Jewry for overreacting.”

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