THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
KRAKOW, Poland — Italy forward Antonio Cassano said Tuesday that he hopes there are no homosexual players on the national team at the European Championship, and he then used a derogatory word to describe gays.
After being told by an Italian reporter that there might be some undeclared gay players on the team, Cassano appeared at a loss for words before responding.
"That’s their problem, but I hope not. … But I don’t know," he said, then added that he hoped his answer sufficed. "Because if not, you know I’ll be attacked from every direction."
The question Tuesday was asked by an Italian journalist citing Alessandro Cecchi Paone, who co-wrote a book earlier this year with a title that can be translated as "The champion in love. The banned games of sport."
The journalist also suggested that there are a couple of metrosexual players on Italy’s squad.
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli wrote the preface to Cecchi Paone’s book, in which he supported homosexuals in sport.
Another Italy forward, Antonio Di Natale, said after the book came out in April that homosexual footballers should not reveal that they are gay.
Upon hearing Cassano’s comments, Cecchi Paone told a local radio station that he had an affair with a member of Italy’s squad, and that the player told him of another gay player on the team.
"Prandelli definitely knows who the homosexuals are," Cecchi Paone told Radio 24, also naming three players on the squad who he said are metrosexuals. "Cassano should come to lunch with me, and I’ll explain to him that there’s no problem having a gay player in the squad."
Gay associations in Italy immediately reacted with outrage to Cassano’s comments.
"Those that express hate toward others should not represent us in the national team," homosexual cultural club leader Mario Mieli said, according to the ANSA news agency.
Gay Center spokesman Fabrizio Marrazzo added: "He deserves at least a warning, if not to be expelled from the Euros."
Meanwhile, Arcigay president Paolo Patane invited Cassano to make a "courageous choice" and become a spokesman in the fight against homophobia and racism in football.
Several hours after his initial remarks, Italy released a statement from Cassano.
"I’m sincerely sorry that my statements created controversy and protests from gay associations," Cassano said. "I’m not homophobic. I didn’t want to offend anyone and I certainly don’t want to question anyone’s sexual freedom."
Cassano has always been a player who speaks his mind. He had well-documented run-ins with Fabio Capello at both Roma and Real Madrid, and then a separation from Sampdoria when he allegedly insulted club president Riccardo Garrone with a profanity-laced verbal tirade.
He now plays for AC Milan, and risked losing his life after falling ill with stroke-like symptoms on the team plane in October. He then required minor heart surgery that kept him out for five months.
Homosexuality in football has been a taboo subject for years.
Justin Fashanu, the first black footballer to move in a 1 million pound transfer when he joined English club Nottingham Forest in 1981, saw his career fade after he publicly acknowledged his homosexuality. He was found hanged in a London garage in 1998 at age 37.
French former player Olivier Rouyer, who once played with current UEFA President Michel Platini at Nancy, came out after retiring as a coach.