Browse all

Do we really want to be satisfied with racism?

Mario Balotelli and the importance of the narrative about racism in football

Do we really want to be satisfied with racism? Mario Balotelli and the importance of the narrative about racism in football

On 11 March 2019, during Utah Jazz - Oklahoma City Thunder, Russell Westbrook - in an attempt to recover a ball - ends up in the front row spectators at the Vivid Smart Home Arena. A jazz fan, Shane Keisel, bothered by the incident, shouts in his ear «Get down on your knees like you're used to». Keisel is white, and Westbrook understands the insult as a racist and reacts, hitting him. In the following days the NBA and the Utah Jazz support Westbrook's thesis, banning the fan from the team's home games and expressing themselves publicly against any form of racism. It’s not easy to draw a parallel between the United States and Italy, especially when referring to the racial question and the way in which thing are managed - and it is certainly not true that the US has learned to manage the subject properly - yet the first part of the current Serie A season has taught us that Italy and sports institutions are still incredibly lacking in solutions when it comes to racism.

On Sunday afternoon, during the game versus Hellas Verona, Mario Balotelli was the victim of racist chants, specifically of the ever more present monkey verses that are addressed to black football players. Balotelli collected the ball, kicked it towards the Verona corner and threatened to leave the game before being persuaded by his teammates and opponents to stay on the pitch. A reaction in some ways similar to that of Westbrook, more physical than those of Kessie or Koulibaly who in the first days of the Serie A had also found themselves in similar situations. The reaction of the media and fans was however different from what we might expect: Balotelli was accused of having overreacted, of letting himself be upset by choirs that were not racist, but simply dictated by the antipathy of the character (who had already had arguments with the curve and the city of Verona). On its social media channels, La Gazzetta dello Sport pointed out that Balotelli had kicked the ball "with violence" towards the fans, as to overturn the narrative of what had happened, while Sky Sport talked about "furious" reaction of the striker, as if having kicked a ball towards the curve could in some way be compared to a type of physical violence. For the major Italian newspaper, "Il Corriere", the wrath of Balotelli was "fatal". It had also happened in the US with Westbrook - several media commented on the news saying that Westbrook, as a professional, should have remained calm - with the difference, however, that immediately after the incident the league and teams immediately threw themselves on the player's side.

With Balotelli, this has not happened and indeed in the immediate post-match the Verona coach, Ivan Jurić, has asked the media to "not create a case where there is not", reducing the incident to tease from the stadium. The President of Hellas, Maurizio Setti, echoed that "Verona fans are particular, have a way of 'teasing' opponents full of irony". Always Setti said that if the same choirs were addressed to other players, they would return to play after a minute. The tone in which the newspapers reported these statements is emblematic of the perception of the case in the vast majority of the Italian public. Almost every Italian media, starting with Repubblica and Corriere, have reported the absurd words given to Radio Café by Luca Castellini, head of Verona's ultras and exponent of the Forza Nuova party. Castellini has reiterated that the Verona fans were just joking, claiming the freedom to use the word "n***o". But none of those media thought of challenging Castellini's words, or delegitimizing them in some way or calling them for what they are: racist insults.

Implicitly or not, the first thing that was done by fans and the media was to question Balotelli, his reaction and his persona. A modus operandi that resembles that of the "blaming the victim", implemented in cases of abuse or violence, a microaggression that is added to the more explicitly vocal one. Italy has not become a racist country from today to tomorrow, nor have the curves become. Today, however, the attention and intolerance towards a phenomena of this type, towards those insults that are hastened to define "goliardic" have increased: there is a part of the population that points out that all this is not ok, and that it seeks to counteract the phenomenon. The players do it and the whole Italian sporting apparatus should do it, without exception. The acceptance of racist violence is emblematic of the very acceptance of racism.

The Brescia's ultras on November 8 published a statement expressing their opinion on the Balotelli case, stating that the supporters "cannot be considered racist", condemning the gesture of Hellas fans but finding an unnecessary counterweight. The statement is a condemnation of the sufficiency with which the media was treated, a letter in defense of the category and personal attack on Mario Balotelli, defined as "childish and annoying" cause of embarrassment for the city and the fans. In a story that has absurdity, the Brescia supporters preferred to take a stand defending the ultras code and blaming Balotelli for having "unnerved" and "having to know what he was going to expect". The words of the Ex-Curva Nord also defend the ultras of Hellas, saying that not all the fans are racist as if the point of the problem is a question of number.

Why, then, in Italy do we tend to be content with racism? Only a few weeks ago, first in Bergamo and then in Cagliari, Dalbert and Lukaku had been victims of racist chants which in the first case had led to the suspension of the match. If Atalanta had condemned the incident, it had done so "condemning all forms of discrimination", but without ever openly quoting the word racism. Neither in that case nor in the subsequent ones of Cagliari or always of Verona, the Serie A companies had undertaken to identify those responsible for the incident.

"So if most Italian Serie A and Serie B clubs do not believe that stadium racism is a serious problem, as it suggests every week, why should they strive to establish self-regulation and internal control systems - investing resources for thousands of euro - with the aim of punishing those who stand out for discriminatory behavior? », had written Il Post in September.

Is it enough to suspend a game for a few seconds because we can actually talk about combating racism or discrimination? No, above all if the fact is not supported by a story and a media narrative that helps in some way to make the weight of the matter felt, avoiding to settle on the excuse of the "group of idiots", thus avoiding being satisfied with the racism.