Super Mario or Mario Balotelli seems to have eclipsed Spain vs. Italy Euro 2012 Final match. But will he prove Italy’s Mohammad Ali, wonders S Ahmed of NVONews.Com
Mario Balotelli might have scored two of the most brilliant goals in Euro 2012 on Thursday but it is still his colour and race that seems to be the most discussed issue. Dubbed also as ‘Super’ Mario, the story of this Manchester City star seems to be filling with the same racist behavior that the world’s greatest boxer Mohammed Ali, formerly Cassius Marcellus Clay, had to face.
Success wise Balotelli is undoubtedly far behind of Ali but he is having troubles of similar magnitude.
Balotelli has been a target of racist chants at Euro 2012. So much so that he had to say at the start of the tournament that if he heard himse being racially abused he would consider remaining off field. At this juncture the whole of Italy is celebrating the win by virtue of the two Balotelli goals but imagine the scene if he had not scored those.
One thing that could be put in that scenario is the cartoon by Gazzetta dello Sport on the day of Italy’s Euro match against England showing him on top of Big Ben that is considered to be a reference to King Kong on New York’s Empire state building. This should be seen in the context that Croatia had been fined for monkey chants towards Balotelli after an earlier game in the tournament.
Anti-racism activists took strong exception to that saying that Mario’s very presence in the Italian team is symbolic on so many levels. The cartoon sketched by Valerio Marini was symbolic of what Mario has to face in that society. However Gazzetta apologized for that cartoon but did not accepted the gravity of the matter. It only said that the cartoon it was not among the best products of their cartoonist. Gazzetta still used the words like ‘if certain readers found the cartoon offensive, we apologise’.
Balotelli’s net worth is reported to be $8 million (£5m) as of April 2012 quoted in to the Sunday Times UK Rich List and Manchester City pays him £125,000 a week. He is reported to have earned £11 million since August 2010. He has a deal with Sports Giant Nike for his boots. But his social worth is still nowhere there.
His unruly behaviour is an altogether different issue. His upbringing must have some role in it. One can easily understand the day Balotelli fails there would be no ‘apology’ for the ‘king kong’ cartoon.
John Foot is a professor of modern Italian history at the University College London and in his recent analysis he has delved into this matter. Foot has written a book on Italian Football five years back. He says that the most infamous chant of all implied that the striker was not what he claimed to be: “Balotelli you are not an Italian/you are a black African”. He writes that another version of this chant was even more explicit which said tht there was no such thing as a black Italian.
Balotelli was born in 1990 to Ghanaian immigrants parents in Palermo, Sicily, Italy but he was not given the Italian citizenship till he was 18 despite having always lived there. Some racists still claimed that Balotelli was ‘Ghanaian’ and this shows that how racism has dogged Balotelli’s career.
He is a case of behavioral volatility. That is easily explained by the amount of fines he has paid. He has to pay £250,000 for attending a strip club just before a match in this season.
Foot asks that could some of those celebrating so wildly have been the same fans who, for years, had given Balotelli such a hard time in stadiums across the peninsula?
Despite the facts that Balotelli speaks the Italian language with a broad Brescian accent, attended local Italian schools and learned his football there he is still not as much Italian as the other ‘white Italians’ are. His “blackness” is still an issue.
Foot says that Balotelli’s two goals has exposed the contradictions of the racist chants against him. According to Foot ‘those two goals have taken on immense symbolic power. They are a sign that black Italians are here to stay’.
Foot explains the problems faced by the immigrants in Italy. Immigrants are considered okay as long as they are invisible, they don’t bother you and they don’t have rights, and work in kitchens, or as cleaners or carers.
In fact the Italian media is beset with a ‘hate and love’ relationship towards Balotelli because of his colour. One Italian newspaper headlined the victory over Germany as ‘abbiamo fatti neri” (we made them all black). They say that it means the Italians beat the Germans black and blue but analysts see the word black in more appropriate context.