Thursday, November 18, 2010

Italian racism strikes yet again

Mario Balotelli always seems to find the headlines for the wrong reasons. Whether spats with the coaching staff or reckless play on the pitch, the 20 year old never seems to get the benefit of the doubt from anyone. Which is why his most recent comments are a bit baffling:

Until June I am certainly at Manchester City. I have a five-year contract and can’t say anything.

What do I think of Zlatan Ibrahimovic? Ah, Ibra and I would make a very strong pairing

They are not baffling because of the nature of his remarks - a lack of complete commitment to his current squad and always hinting at moving to other clubs. They are baffling because of what awaits him at home, and he is fully aware of it.
Yesterday's international friendly between Italy and Romania took place in Austria. Balotelli made a much anticipated start for his country, but any pre-match excitement was immediately squashed. Every time he touched the ball, whistles filled the stadium as Romanian supporters spewed racist chants and slogans at the Italian striker born of Ghanaian immigrants. However, this was not even the tip of the iceberg. 
In the 60th minute, Balotelli was substituted off. What happened next speaks volumes of Italian culture and sets society back decades. A small contingent of Italian supporters unfurled a banner that read: "No alla nazionale multietnica" - no to a multi-ethnic national team. Naturally, monkey chants and more disgusting songs followed as he left the field.
There are two issues here. One, of course, is the racism. Balotelli heard it both in Milan and a number of other cities around the country, and Samuel Eto'o continues to get abused. There is no sense in discussing what should be done, because nothing will be done. The Italians have proven impotent and gutless to address the issue of racism. Yes, referees were given authority prior to this season to stop matches if they heard racist chants. A few weeks ago, the referee stopped the Cagliari vs Inter Milan match, but obviously let it continue after three minutes. The President of Cagliari later said, "I never heard the chants. Our fans are not racist so there is no way the accusations are true." Really?
The other issue is Balotelli himself, nothing more than a kid at the moment (albeit built like a tank) who needs to get avoid this behavior for his own sanity and development. "Honestly, I don't know what to say," Balotelli told Mediaset. "If I have to hear those chants every time, you can't go forward like that." So why is he stirring up stories about returning to Italy?! What good will come of that?
I hope he continues to play for the national team, and he has indicated he will. Quite frankly, he can be as good as some of the best strikers we've seen in a while. But until Italy finds a way to fix this problem - and the excuse that punishing a full stadium for the actions of so few is unfair, is complete bullshit - Balotelli needs to stay in England. 

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