Italy PM Mario Draghi offers support to volleyball player Paola Egonu over nationality issue

On Saturday, a video of the 23-year-old went viral in which she burst into tears after her team took bronze in the world championships, telling her agent on the sidelines that this was her last match with the national team.

FILE PHOTO: Paola Egonu reacts during the women’s quarterfinal volleyball match between Italy and Serbia at the Ariake Arena in Tokyo on August 4, 2021.

FILE PHOTO: Paola Egonu reacts during the women’s quarterfinal volleyball match between Italy and Serbia at the Ariake Arena in Tokyo on August 4, 2021. | Photo Credit: REUTERS

On Saturday, a video of the 23-year-old went viral in which she burst into tears after her team took bronze in the world championships, telling her agent on the sidelines that this was her last match with the national team.

Outgoing prime minister Mario Draghi on Sunday offered his full support to Paola Egonu after the Italian volleyball player born to Nigerian parents said she was taking a break from the national team following comments questioning her nationality.

On Saturday a video of the 23-year-old went viral in which she burst into tears after her team took bronze in the world championships, telling her agent on the sidelines this was her last match with the national team as she was tired of being questioned about whether she was Italian.

She later clarified she was only taking a break to think matters through after "all the insults and messages I received".

Egonu was born in Italy but as a daughter of non-Italian parents she received her citizenship only at the age of 14 when her father obtained an Italian passport, Italian media said.

"We athletes give everything in every game and it hurts to hear that I don't deserve to wear this jersey," Egonu told RAI television on Saturday.

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Egonu's words sparked an outpouring of support from across Italy, with Draghi telling the athlete in a phone call she was "a pride to Italian sport and will have future opportunities to win other trophies wearing the national team jersey".

The case also touched on a sensitive issue in Italy, where the incoming right-wing coalition that won the Sept. 25 general election has been dismissing calls from the left to ease restrictive citizenship laws.

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