Mario Balotelli is one of Italy’s most talented players. He was born there to immigrants from Ghana, West Africa. He was officially adopted by a Jewish couple at 18 and said afterward: “I am Italian. I feel Italian.”
He’s also Black, and that skin complexion has made him the target of a volume of racist incidents that would make the Klan proud.
Rival soccer team fans—and some players on occasion over the years—have verbally abused him since he was a teenage rising star. And now they have extended their venomous behavior to social media.
According to Kick It Out, a European anti-discrimination group, Balotelli, 23, has been targeted with more than 4,000 racist messages via social media this season. That’s four thousand.
Arsenal striker Danny Welbeck and Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge—both also of Black heritage—have also each received more than 1,000 discriminatory messages.
Overall, Kick It Out’s research estimates there have been 134,000 discriminatory posts this season. The research was done by Tempero, a social media management agency, and analytics firm Brandwatch and looked at specific case studies including Balotelli, Welbeck and Sturridge.
And we thought it was bad over here?
The culture of racism around soccer in Europe is intense and pathetic, and goes beyond drunk guys going bad. The volume of the hatred speaks to embedded hate and ignorance. Two months ago, a Black man from France was prevented from getting on a subway train by a gang of Chelsea fans. It was caught on tape. The white men pushed the man away for six minutes, while chanting, “We’re racist, we’re racist and we like it that way.”
“I understand that they were attacking me because of the color of my skin,” the man said.
French League (LFP) president Frederic Thiriez said his organization was considering filing a civil suit. “Football must fight racism on a daily basis. It’s a priority. And it’s in the name of that priority that we wish to file a civil suit. I welcome the English authorities and Chelsea FC’s reactivity who are at our side in that fight.”
As for Balotelli, he was bombarded with vile posts, all focused on his race, when he poked fun of Manchester United when it was losing a game to Leicester earlier this season, posting on Twitter: “Man utd … LOL.”
That was all that was needed for the racists to unleash on Balotelli, who said the racism makes him “feel alone.”
To GQ Balotelli said this about racism and what he has experienced:
“They aren’t used to seeing people who are different, not white, who act not as rebels but normally. I think what the ignorant people don’t like is that people who are different are allowed to act that way.
“These stupid people, they get angry with me, they say horrible things, but I haven’t done anything different from other people. I have made mistakes, like everyone does, and I have always paid for my mistakes. I think that if I was white maybe some people would still find me irritating or annoying but it wouldn’t be the same. Absolutely not.
“Jealousy is a horrible thing, but when this jealousy is towards people who are different from the majority, and who maybe also have more than you, then it becomes anger, it becomes rage, and that’s the overt racism.
“Racism is everywhere. Maybe it is more open here, or in Spain. There are racists in England but I think they hide it more.”
Balotelli said he wants to be involved in a serious mission to address racism.
“I know people are fighting this thing, and it’s important, but in the media every time I have talked about this subject people talk about it for three or four days but then everything goes back to normal,” he said to GQ.
“So, either there is something really strong for all of us to do, some real movement or real action, and in that case I will be the first guy to participate, but if it’s just talk, I’d rather not. We can talk about it as much as we want but things don’t change that way.”