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AP Interview: FIFA VP Webb condemns 'deep rooted racism' in Italy after Balotelli abuse

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LONDON - FIFA Vice-President Jeffrey Webb condemned "deep rooted racism" in Italy on Wednesday after Mario Balotelli was racially abused while training with the national team.

A year after spearheading the strengthening of FIFA's discrimination sanctions, Webb is frustrated that some countries including Italy and Spain are not showing the commitment required to the fight against racism.

"National associations obviously really have to not just talk about zero tolerance — they have to put action behind it," Webb told The Associated Press in an interview in London. "If you look at some of the decisions that have been taken in Spain and Italy definitely that's cause for concern."

Balotelli, who is black, faced racist chants again on Wednesday morning in Italy — this time at the national team's World Cup training base in Florence.

"Unfortunately, it just shows the deep rooted racism and prejudice that exists obviously in the Italian community and society at large," said Webb, who heads FIFA's task force against discrimination. "It is a fight, it is a challenge."

And a challenge to ensure every country adopts the penalties adopted by FIFA last May, including minimum five-game bans for racist abuse by players, and point deductions or relegation for serious incidents in the stands.

In Spain, Villarreal's only sanction last month was a 12,000 euro ($16,000) fine from the league after a fan threw a banana at Barcelona defender Dani Alves, rather than any partial stadium closure for the next game.

"We have seen national associations taking decisions and they have not implemented what FIFA has adopted or what UEFA has adopted (including a minimum 10-game ban for racism)," said Webb, who is also CONCACAF president. "In those cases now we have got to make sure that those regulations go down to the national associations — and the national associations hold the clubs accountable."

To Webb, Spanish football remains in a state of denial about the extent of racism and the need to show a commitment to eradicating the scourge on the game in the home of the world and European champions.

"It's obviously very much deep-rooted," he said of the situation in Spain, adding later: "In many countries it's not high on the agenda."

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Rob Harris can be followed at www.twitter.com/RobHarris

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