LONDON (AFP) - Liverpool striker Mario Balotelli apologised on Tuesday for posting a message on Instagram that appeared to contain racist and anti-Semitic references and which has sparked a Football Association investigation.
The Italy international re-posted an image of the Nintendo video game character Super Mario on the photo-sharing website that contained the phrase "jumps like a black man and grabs coins like a Jew".
The post was titled "Don't be a racist" and continued: "Be like Mario. He's an Italian plumber, created by Japanese people, who speaks English and looks like a Mexican." The offending phrase followed.
Balotelli deleted the post following criticism from other social media users, but after the FA confirmed it was looking into the matter, he wrote on Twitter: "I apologise if I've offended anyone.
"The post was meant to be anti-racist with humour. I now understand that out of context may have the opposite effect. Not all Mexicans have moustache, not all black people jump high and not all Jewish people love money.
"I used a cartoon done by someone else because it has Super Mario and I thought it was funny and not offensive. Again, I'm sorry."
Britain's Press Association reported that the FA had spoken to Balotelli on Tuesday and asked him to explain his actions.
Under the FA's social media guidelines, the minimum suspension for rule breaches related to race is five games.
A Liverpool spokesman said: "We are aware of the posting, which has since been promptly deleted by the player. We will be speaking to the player about the issue."
Balotelli, who has been a victim of racism throughout his career, initially defended himself against accusations of anti-Semitism, tweeting: "My Mom is jewish so all of u shut up please."
The 24-year-old, born in Italy to Ghanaian parents and then adopted by an Italian family, also described his decision to repost the image as "my unlucky moment".
The Professional Footballers' Association, the trade union for professional footballers in England and Wales, urged players to excercise greater caution when using social media.
"The situation regarding Mario Balotelli's Instagram post reinforces the need for continued education and highlights how vigilant players need to be in all of their dealings with social media," the PFA said in a statement.
"We strongly condemn all discriminatory language used in any context." Simon Johnson, a former FA executive and current chief executive of British organisation the Jewish Leadership Council, said Balotelli should face action over his post.
"We call upon the FA to investigate this offensive social media post and to take action if appropriate if we are to succeed in kicking racism out of football," he told the Daily Telegraph.