BERN (REUTERS) - Italian football federation (FIGC) president Carlo Tavecchio has been barred from holding any position with world governing body Fifa for six months over an alleged racist comment he made in August.
European soccer's governing body Uefa has already imposed a similar sanction on the 71-year-old and the Fifa decision announced on Wednesday was another embarrassment for the FIGC, whose own investigation had cleared Tavecchio of any wrongdoing.
Tavecchio caused an outcry when he made a comment about a fictitious African player he named Opti Poba "eating bananas" during the campaign for the FIGC presidency.
He was addressing the vexed subject of the lack of opportunities for young Italian players at professional clubs.
"In England, they identify the players coming in and, if they are professional, they are allowed to play," the 71-year-old said.
"Here instead we get 'Opti Poba', who previously ate bananas and then suddenly becomes a first-team player with Lazio."
Fifa said that Tavecchio would be "ineligible for any position as a Fifa official for a period of six months starting from Oct 7, 2014.
"The case relates to racist comments made by Mr Tavecchio during his FIGC presidential election campaign," the statement said. "Fifa's stance against any form of discrimination is unequivocal.
"Article three of the Fifa statutes expressly prohibits discrimination of any kind against persons on account of their race, skin colour, ethnic, national or social origin, gender, language, religion, political opinion, wealth, birth or sexual orientation."
As head of one of the world's leading federations, Tavecchio would normally be considered a leading choice to sit on Fifa committees.
Tavecchio made the remarks in a speech to a meeting of the assembly of Italy's amateur leagues (LND) of which he was president at the time.
Despite the controversy, he swept to victory in the FICG election against former AC Milan midfielder Demetrio Albertini with the backing of the lower-tier clubs and amateur leagues, a result which raised more questions about Italian attitudes to racism in football.
The FIGC's own disciplinary panel ruled in August that Tavecchio had no case to answer.
"The phases spoken by (Tavecchio) during the general assembly (of the Amateur Leagues' Association) on July 25 and in interviews to media outlets did not reveal any facts of disciplinary relevance against the new FIGC president Carlo Tavecchio," it said.