In August 2013, I was in the library and came upon an issue of Sports Illustrated with an intriguing cover. It had a man with arms stretched out. That’s not the interesting part. Below said arms were two columns of carefully placed and carefully worded phrases: He is Italian/He is African. The face of AC Milan/The face of the new Europe. Sold. I’m reading this!
The lines continued: Friend to popes and prime ministers/A red card waiting to happen. subject of racist hate and of wild adulation/The best young striker in futbol.
With World Cup 2014 going on and soccer in the air, although Italy was bounced way early, I still wanted to put this together because, simply, Mario Balotelli is interesting.
How good is he? Check him out:
Mario Barwuah was born to immigrants from Ghana in Palermo, Sicily. They moved to the province of Brescia and when he was three, he was placed into the foster care of Silvia and Francesco Balotelli. Barwuah would spend time with his biological family on weekends but over time saw them less and less. Eventually, he took the name of his foster parents.
Getting to the SI article, a few parts stood out:
(1) “At a tournament where the Croatian and Spanish federations were fined for their fans’ racist chants at Balotelli, the image of a tiny white woman from Brescia proudly embracing her black son was a stirring rejoinder, the embodiment of a New Italy.”
“Ghanian player Kevin-Prince Boateng walked off the field amid racial slurs being hurled at him.” He was hailed for his stance and joined FIFA’s new antiracism task force, but now teams will face punishment if any player walks off the field.”
Soccer, arguably more so than any other professional sport in the world, has the hardest time managing racism, despite its image as a global sport. Yes, people around the world play it. But playing a game and respecting people are different and not always found in the same place.
This 2012 documentary looks at racism in soccer: What’s the history? What’s being done about it today? You can view it here:
(2) “A much-debated Italian law prevents the children of noncitizens from gaining citizenship until they’re 18, even if they’re born in Italy, as Balotelli was.” Balotelli carried a Ghanaian passport even though he has never been to Africa.
Italy receives the majority of their immigrants from Africa. Over the past decade, their portion of the population has doubled to 7.5%. Every largely homogenous society goes through growing pains in the beginning. It is fascinating to watch exactly how different areas manage. Vancouver has come a long way and it still has its issues even after decades.
(3) Balotelli’s controversy, in large part, concerns his ethnicity, his mega-stardom, what he means to fellow Italians and what that means to the rest of the world. Another big part is his entertaining and sometimes questionable/unusual behavior on and off the field. It’s hard to figure out what is actually true and what is meant to be for his legend or just for laughs. In his interview with SI, he clarifies at least some of the rumors:
(a) He did take his Ferrari onto a go-kart track, but it was his own track.
(b) He did not give a homeless man $2,500 in cash.
(c) He did not drive to a school to confront a bully who made one of his fans cry.
(d) He is not BFF’s with controversial former prime minster and AC Milan owner Silvio Berlusconi. They speak on occasion.
(e) He did not throw darts at youth-team players.
(f) He did not deliberately start a fire in Manchester. A firework went stray when he was outside. It flew into the home caught a curtain that went ablaze.
(g) He is fascinated by piglets and has one as a pet named Super.
Although he is a loose cannon that’s difficult to manage on the field, he is nonetheless a positive figure in the discussion about cultural identity and social progress. Balotelli had this to say about racism: “It’s like a cigarette. You can’t stop smoking if you don’t want to.” The more affecting sentence for me is what came after: “But I’ll do everything I can to help.” Mr. Balotelli, you do some pretty weird things, but fighting for the equality of all people, that’s definitely something I can support.culture, Europe, football, icons, racism, soccer, social progress, sports, sports figures, video