ZURICH - FIFA asked the Italian football federation on Monday to open an investigation into alleged racist comments by Carlo Tavecchio, a leading candidate for the presidency of the national body.
Tavecchio said he still has support for his candidacy, despite what he called his "improper words," and will remain in the race.
"Media reports concerning alleged racist comments by one of the presidential candidates for the Italian FA have alerted FIFA's Task Force against racism and discrimination and its chairman Jeffrey Webb," world football's governing body said in a statement. "As such, FIFA has written a letter to the Italian FA asking it to take the appropriate steps to investigate and decide on this matter and report to FIFA.
"In the letter, FIFA reminded the Italian FA that the fight against racism is a top priority for FIFA."
Tavecchio, who is president of the amateur leagues in Italy, sparked outrage on Friday when he discussed the presence of foreign players in Italy.
Using a hypothetical name, he said, "In England they select players based on professionalism, whereas we say that 'Opti Poba' is here, he was eating bananas before and now he's starting for Lazio and that's OK."
Tavecchio is one of the leading candidates to replace Giancarlo Abete, who resigned along with national team coach Cesare Prandelli immediately after Italy's first-round elimination from the World Cup last month.
The 71-year-old Tavecchio, who insisted he still has the support of the Italian leagues, broke his silence on the matter on Monday afternoon.
"I have paid a lot of attention to what's happened over the past few days and to the positions expressed by the media in relation to my improper words, which were without any offensive intent," Tavecchio said. "I have drawn many lessons that I wanted to share with the representatives of the bodies which support my candidacy for president of the FIGC, receiving from them full confirmation of their support.
"In these past few days I appreciated the widespread sensitivity of the public on issues of racial discrimination and I hope that we can start from this sensitivity to launch a widespread program that is finally effective in fighting against any discrimination in sport."
A number of Serie A clubs have said they are considering withdrawing their support for Tavecchio, who previously had the backing of 18 of the top-flight clubs.
The only other candidate in the Aug. 11 election is former AC Milan player and current federation vice-president Demetrio Albertini.
The vote is considered pivotal for the future of Italian football, which is rife with problems such as falling attendance, crumbling stadiums, fan violence and racism — and early eliminations for the national team at the last two World Cups.
The new president's first job will be to name a replacement for Prandelli.