Italian discus-thrower Daisy Osakue has left hospital after she was hit by an egg thrown from a car, in an attack she believes was racially motivated.
Police in Turin have cast doubt on a racist link, but the attack has inflamed a row surrounding populist Interior Minister Matteo Salvini.
Mr Salvini has rejected claims by political opponents of a “racism emergency”.
He argues that the only emergency he is fighting involves crimes by immigrants.
Ms Osakue, 22, whose parents are originally from Nigeria, suffered damage to her cornea in the attack early on Monday in the Moncalieri area of southern Turin.
She had been training in the US for 10 months and had returned to Italy to find “a different country”. “Certainly the climate of widespread violence that I see scares me,” she said.
She holds Italy’s under-23 discus record and is set to take part in the European Athletics Championships which get under way in Berlin on 7 August.
She was concerned that the injury could affect her ability to compete.
“I’ll do all I can to be in Berlin,” she told reporters, adding that it was just an abrasion and after a few days and some eye drops she should be fine.
Was it a racist attack?
The athlete, who has been studying in Texas, insists that she was targeted on purpose by attackers in a Fiat Doblo car as she walked home shortly after midnight.
“They didn’t want to attack me, as Daisy. They wanted to hit me as a young woman of colour. That’s an area used by prostitutes and I was mistaken for one of them,” she said, pointing out that there were other people in the vicinity at the time but she was singled out.
She had been the focus of verbal racist attacks in the past, but when it involved a racist action she felt another wall had been breached.
Police said there had been other attacks involving eggs being thrown earlier in the month and did not suspect a racist link to the latest incident. Last week, three women in the Moncalieri area were targeted as they left a restaurant.
Why Salvini is under scrutiny
However, the case has prompted criticism of Matteo Salvini, the right-wing leader of Italy’s anti-immigration League party, which is in government with the populist Five Star Movement.
Mr Salvini has targeted illegal immigration and immigrant crime since he arrived at the interior ministry, and has seen his party’s popularity surge. Last week, a Roma camp was cleared in the capital, weeks after he said all Roma should be counted and foreign Roma deported.
The attack on Ms Osakue came amid a spate of violent incidents in recent weeks:
- A Moroccan man died in a hospital south of Rome after residents suspecting him of planning a robbery chased his car and then beat him up when he crashed
- A 19-year-old Senegalese waiter was attacked and beaten in a bar where he worked
- A Roma baby girl was shot and wounded with an air gun
- Two Nigerian asylum seekers were shot with an air gun
- A Malian migrant was shot dead while working on the roof of a reception centre
Mr Salvini said it was nonsense and an “invention of the left” to speak of a racism emergency in Italy, arguing that in the space of just three days 95 immigrants were arrested.
He was backed up by Five Star government partner Luigi Di Maio who said such cases were being used by their opponents to argue the government was “instigating racism”.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte took a different line and phoned Ms Osakue after she left hospital, saying Italy should not lower its guard towards any race attacks.
Mr Conte was on the way back from a visit to the White House, where President Donald Trump praised Italy’s handling of immigration.
“I agree very much (with) what you’re doing with respect to migration and illegal immigration, and even legal immigration,” he said.
Italian athlete Osakue fears climate of violence after attack