The Italian athletics federation opened an investigation after Trieste Half Marathon organisers restricted the participation of African athletes in the May 5 race.

Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge (L) runs behind pace-makers during an attempt to break the two-hour marathon barrier at the Monza circuit in Italy on May 6, 2017.
Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge (L) runs behind pace-makers during an attempt to break the two-hour marathon barrier at the Monza circuit in Italy on May 6, 2017. (Reuters)

Trieste half-marathon organisers, who were accused of racism when they refused to allow African runners to take part in their May 5 race, backed down on Saturday after a barrage of criticism over their contentious decision.

"After attracting a great deal of attention to a fundamental ethical subject, we will invite African athletes, contrary to what was announced," said Fabio Carini, organiser of the race.

"I acknowledge that we should have raised the issue differently and with a different timing and that's what we will do. I regret the reactions to this decision and apologise to those people who have felt offended."

Carini had told Saturday's edition of La Repubblica that the move only to allow European entries was to make a stand against the exploitation of African runners.

"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, who are purely and simply exploited, which is something we can no longer accept," he said.

Interviewed on Rai Television, Carini said athletes were "under-paid and treated indecently in relation to their sporting value".

"Serious and unworthy"

However, Carini came under fire from an Italian member of the European Parliament, Isabella de Monte, who called the decision "serious and unworthy".

"We are preventing professionals taking part in a race because they come from Africa... The situation is in the process of slipping away from us and we are returning to the dark days," the MEP for the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats said.

She added: "The only way to react to this type of decision is outrage.

"Sport is about sharing, unifying, equality, loyalty and respect, that's w hat we teach our children.

"But what example are we giving them with this type of decision?"

Later Saturday, the Italian athletics federation said they were investigating the controversy.

Investigation underway 

"The Italian Athletics Federation announces that its authorities have immediately opened an investigation to examine the facts and possible violations of its standards and regulations committed by affiliated clubs or licensees," said a media statement.

The Trieste half-marathon controversy comes days after Lazio fans racially abused two AC Milan players in the Italian Cup semi-final.

This was the latest in a series of racist incidents in Serie A this season.

Earlier this month, Juventus youngster Moise Kean was racially abused in a game at Cagliari.

Source: AFP