The organizers of a half-marathon in Italy did an about face after previously announcing that they would not allow African runners to run in the May 5 race in the town of Trieste.
Amid allegations of racism, race organizers said the initial ban was only to draw attention to the exploitation of African athletes. Race organizer Fabio Carini also took to Facebook to apologize to people offended by the ban.
“I recognize that we should have raised the problem in different times and ways and that’s (why) I am sorry for the reactions that this choice has raised,” Carini said on Facebook, according to CNN. “I apologize to those who have honestly felt offended.”
The controversy began when Carini initially announced that Africans would be prohibited from participating in the four-day running festival in Trieste.
“This year we have decided only to take European athletes to make the point that measures must be taken to regulate what is currently a trade in high-value African athletes,” Carini told the La Repubblica newspaper in an interview on Saturday, according to CNN.
However Isabella De Monte, Italian Member of the European Parliament, made clear that she isn’t buying it. She called the rationale an “ignoble, shameless excuse.”
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Also, Nicola Fratoianni, secretary of the Italian Left party, slammed the decision as racist.
“It is evident that this choice goes against every rule, value and ethical code of the world of sport. As well as against common sense.”
The timing for the initial ban comes as Italian sports witness an increase in racist incidents.
Recently, during a Serie A soccer match, some fans hung up a pro-Mussolini banner, made fascist hand gestures and shouted slurs toward an African player on AC Milan.
However, now the ban has been reversed and Africans are welcomed. The May 5 race is the final event of the festival, which starts on Thursday.