Buffon to change shirt over neo-Nazi row

Milan - Parma's Italy international goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon has strongly rejected allegations that he has neo-Nazi sympathies after a row erupted over his shirt number.

Buffon chose the number 88 as his Parma squad number, prompting a protest from the Italian Maccabi Association who said the number was used by neo-Nazi groups to signify Heil Hitler, as H is the eighth letter of the alphabet.

"My family taught me to respect others, so for me to have to answer these accusations is an insult to them. I was taught about the holocaust and anti-semitism and to be accused of such sympathies horrifies and hurts me," said Buffon.

"Whoever made these accusations can't know me at all. If they did ... they would understand the error of what they have said," added the goalkeeper, who missed Euro 2000 due to a broken wrist.

Buffon said he had no idea of the number's use by neo-Nazis and offered to choose another number if his choice continued to cause offence.

"I am ready to change the shirt if it continues to cause problems for the Jewish community. If this number causes embarrassment or pain, I'm ready to make another choice immediately," he said.

Buffon said his choice of number had an entirely different motivation.

"This is an important year for me and I have to get back to where I was before my injury, it is a season in which I must show my character. It is a commonplace to say that one has 'balls'.

"That's why I chose 88, a number that has four balls. There's nothing more to it," he said.

Buffon's apology was accepted by Leon Paserman, president of the Italian Jewish Community.

"It has been truly an unfortunate misunderstanding and I am sorry that it has caused unpleasantness for the player, his family and the club," Paserman said.

The accusations against Buffon follow a row over a T-shirt he wore last season bearing the message "Death to those who surrender", a slogan with fascist connotations in Italy.

At the time Buffon denied any knowledge of the slogan's political meaning and apologised for any offence caused. - Reuters

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