Dear Blog Readers — Any of you who read my post last summer on Balotelli’s Mamma know that I am a fan of Italian soccer star Mario Balotelli, not for his golden feet and the goals he scores with them, but for what he has put up with and accomplished. Mario Balotelli remains the first and, as of now, only black (Afro-Italian) player to play on Italy’s national team. Over the years, he has put up with nasty racial slurs and frequent inappropriate jokes about his race.
This week Balotelli was once again the target of a racial broadside. Surprisingly it came from Paolo Berlusconi, Vice President of the Italian soccer team AC Milan and brother of former Italian Prime Minister, and President of AC Milan, Silvio Berlusconi.
On Sunday, February 3, Paolo Berlusconi was speaking at an election rally promoting a candidate. The rally was prior to AC Milan’s game against Udinese and the first game in which Mario Balotelli would play for AC Milan. AC Milan won the game 2-1, thanks to Balotelli’s two goals.
Paolo Berlusconi was captured on a local television telling the crowd, “We are now going to see the family’s little negro who is a hot-head, the young ladies are naturally invited, if they want to come with me, you will also have the opportunity to meet the president (Silvio Berlusconi).”
Just a few weeks ago, in January, Berlusconi’s AC Milan bought Mario Balotelli from Manchester City for a reported 20 Million Euro (27 million dollars). Now, apparently Paolo Berlusconi sees Balotelli as his “family’s little negro.”
This is not the first Berlusconi family member to insult Balotelli. On January 8th, Silvio Berlusconi told an local Italian television that he didn’t want Balotelli at AC Milan because he is a “bad apple” adding “if you put a bad apple in the changing room it can infect everyone.”
But it is election season in Italy and Berlusconi is no fool. Golden-footed Balotelli is adored by fans in Italy and a few weeks later when AC Milan bought Balotelli he was mobbed by wildly enthusiastic fans in Milan and political analysts pondered the possibility that the slight boost Berlusconi was showing in the polls might have something to do with getting Balotelli for AC Milan.
On Friday, February 1st when Balotelli appeared before the press showing off his new AC Milan shirt, a journalist asked him what he thought about Berlusconi’s “bad apple” comment. Balotelli diplomatically said, “I did not hear about this comment in England, I heard about it later, when my manager had talked already with Milan and the president (Berlusconi) had already apologized, but I didn’t know anything about it.”
Balotelli was interrupted by Adriano Galliani, the CEO of AC Milan who said Berlusconi never apologized because he never made the bad apple comment. Sigh. Too bad for him that AP television ran that video on the day he said it, and we still have it in our office.
Balotelli is not the only player in Italy who has faced racist attacks. AC Milan teammate, Kevin Prince-Boateng walked off the field during a friendly match on January 4th when fans of a team from a lower division began racist jeers. He complained to the referee several times but nothing was done. Eventually he pulled off his jersey and walked off the field followed by his teammates.
A few days later on January 6th the AC Milan teammates all wore shirts that had written on the back “AC Milan against Racism.”
The majority of fans in Italy are not racist, but there are still plenty of hardcore fans who are. But almost worse than that is a deep-seated intolerance in Italy that comes out in comments like those of Paolo Berlusconi.
Today I spoke to a sports journalist friend Marcel Vulpis who runs a website www.sportseconomy.it He explained to me that it is a cultural problem and requires education in Italian schools.
Balotelli himself commented recently on the topic noting, “Racism is very tough to fight, I really don’t know how to defeat it. You need to keep firm and sooner or later we’ll win.”
Keep firm Balotelli and you will win.
Trisha is a TV journalist working for AP TV News in Rome. She is married to an Italian and is a Mamma of three.