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Leading candidate for Italian FA president asked to step aside following racist comment

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ROME - A leading candidate for Italian football federation president is facing fierce criticism and calls to step aside following a racist comment.

Amateur leagues president Carlo Tavecchio caused a stir on Friday when he discussed the presence of foreign players in Italy.

"In England they select players based on professionalism, whereas we say that 'Opti Poba' is here, he was eating bananas before and now he's starting for Lazio and that's OK," Tavecchio said, using a hypothetical name and situation.

Tavecchio apologized and claimed he is not racist but the players' and coaches' associations both expressed outrage.

The Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper also called for the 71-year-old Tavecchio to stand down in an editorial Sunday.

The only other candidate in the Aug. 11 election is former AC Milan player and current federation vice-president Demetrio Albertini.

Former FIGC president Giancarlo Abete resigned along with national team coach Cesare Prandelli immediately after Italy's first-round elimination from the World Cup last month.

The vote is considered pivotal for the future of Italian football, which is rife with problems such as falling attendance, crumbling stadiums, fan violence and racism — plus early eliminations for the national team at the last two World Cups.

The new president's first job will be to name a replacement for Prandelli.

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