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'Italy is a racist country' says volleyball star Paola Egonu

Paola Egonu due on stage at Sanremo tonight.

Italian volleyball star Paola Egonu ignited a fresh debate about racism on Thursday by saying that "Italy is a racist country" ahead of her appearance at the Sanremo Music Festival.

Egonu, who was born in Italy to Nigerian parents, made the claim during a news conference to discuss the Sanremo song contest which enters its third night on Thursday.

Asked by reporters if Italy is racist, Egonu paused before answering: "Yes, but this does not mean that everyone is racist or that everyone is bad or that everyone is ignorant." 

She then clarified her views by saying: "In my opinion, it's a racist country but it is getting better. I don't want to play the victim, I just want to tell it like it is."

Egonu, 24, will appear on the stage at Teatro Ariston as co-presenter with the festival host Amadeus and veteran singer Gianni Morandi on Thursday night.

Last weekend she made headlines after her interview with Vanity Fair in which she said: "If I ever have a child with black skin, he will face all the crap I went through" and asked if it was "worth it to give birth to a child and condemn him to unhappiness".

Her interview prompted Italian deputy premier Matteo Salvini of the right-wing Lega to voice his concerns on Wednesday that Egonu might use the Sanremo platform to "launch a tirade about Italy as a racist country."

"Italians can have many defects except that of being racist" - Salvini told Non Stop News Radio - "They are welcoming people who extend a hand to everyone."

Last October Egonu threatened to quit the national volleyball team over racist abuse on social media.

Viral video footage showed her in tears, moments after helping her team win a bronze medal in the world championships, telling her manager: “This is my last game with the national team. You can’t understand. They asked me why I am Italian.”

She subsequently took time out "to reflect on the situation" but not before receiving a wave of public support from Italian political leaders, including former premier Mario Draghi.

Sanremo, Italy's biggest showbiz event of the year, is taking place in the Ligurian town of the same name, with 28 artists battling it out over five nights from 7-11 February.

Photo credit: EvrenKalinbacak /

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