True to form, star soccer player Mario Balotelli is pulling no punches.
The Italian national team striker is scheduled to compete in the UEFA European Football Championship 2012, or Euro 2012, in Ukraine and Poland. Aware of those countries' poor record for racial tolerance, Balotelli is putting up his guard.
If someone throws a banana at me in the street, Balotelli said, I will go to prison because I will kill him.
Those are strong words, but Balotelli has a reputation for headline-grabbing behavior. He often sports elaborately designed mohawks and flaunts diamond-studded earrings. He has come under fire for appearing on television in an A.C. Milan jersey while he was a member of the rival Inter Milan team. And he has been disciplined repeatedly for altercations and confrontational behavior.
But one could argue that Balotelli has good reasons to be angry. As a black member of a mostly white team, he has been subject to racist taunts on several occasions.
Balotelli was born in Italy to Ghanaian immigrants, but he was transferred into foster care when his parents were unable to afford treatment for his life-threatening health complications. He later took his foster parents' name and rejected his biological family's claim to him.
Race has always been a major factor in Balotelli's life, especially after his athletic abilities made him famous. He recalls a 2009 incident at a bar in Rome, where fellow patrons threw bananas at him. Balotelli later told reporters his attackers were lucky the police came quickly. I would have really destroyed them, he told the Guardian.
Balotelli is now gearing up for his Euro 2012 appearance, but he has threatened to withdraw from the tournament at the first sign of trouble.
If [racism] does happen, I would leave the pitch [field] and go home, Balotelli said, according to the BBC. Racism is unacceptable to me; I cannot bear it. We are in 2012 -- it can't happen.
It was April 2007 when the Union of European Football Associations, or UEFA, executive committee chose to hold the tournament in eight cities across Poland and Ukraine, including Krakow, Warsaw, Kiev, and Lviv. Incidentally, Italy had been the favored 2012 host at the time, but the country lost its bid lost due to a scandal involving corrupt referees and an ongoing problem with rowdy fans.
The winning bid from Poland and Ukraine has necessitated the construction of six new stadiums and the renovation of two others. The countries now boast eight stadiums that meet UEFA standards.
Building new structures is one thing; creating a welcoming environment is quite another. It's not just Balotelli -- many feel Poland and Ukraine haven't done enough to respond to incidents of racism within their borders.
Only a month ago, a group of fans at a soccer match in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv were caught on video as they assaulted a group of students from India. The victims, like the attackers, were there to support the home team. While receiving medical care for their wounds, they told a cameraman that the situation was horrifying, adding that they received no help from the police.
Sol Campbell, the former captain of the English national team, made a statement to BBC in response to the incident.
What [UEFA] should say is that is that 'If you want this tournament, you sort your problems out. Until we see a massive improvement, that you have sorted it out, you're never gonna get these tournaments. You do not deserve these prestigious tournaments in your country.'
When the BBC asked whether fans and their families should travel to Poland and Ukraine for Euro 2012, Campbell was blunt. No chance, he said. Stay at home. Watch it on TV. Don't even risk it because you could end up, you know, coming back in a coffin.
Those words have offended some residents of Poland and Ukraine.
Markiyan Lubkivskyi, UEFA's tournament director in Kyiv, told the Associated Press that Campbell and other detractors were off base.
It was a little bit funny to hear comments from Campbell, who never visited Ukraine, Lubkivskyi said, adding there would be a zero-tolerance policy toward racism during the tournament.
For me, it is very important to bring to Ukraine a lot of people and a lot of supporters to discover Ukraine because Ukraine is still colored with a lot of horror stories, with a lot of rumors, with a lot things which have nothing to do with reality.
Balotelli doesn't seem inclined to agree, but he hopes his travels in Ukraine and Poland will pass without incident so that he can focus on defeating his opponents on the soccer field.
The talent God gave me is beautiful and wonderful, but it is difficult because you are always facing other people keen to judge you, Balotelli said. There are few people with such talent, so there are few able to judge what I am doing.