Italy’s far-right Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini seems to have taken a move out of U.S. President Donald Trump’s playbook.
Just like Trump has attacked U.S. sports heroes in the past over patriotism, Salvini has taken to Twitter to attack the Italian football star Mario Balotelli, who, though born in Italy, is of African descent.
Flying the “Italians first” flag — much like Trump’s “America First” slogan — Slavini is using calls by club Nice striker Balotelli for more open immigration to strike back against immigration.
Undoubtedly the country’s most famous Black footballer, Balotelli said that if he became captain of the national team, it would send a message to immigrants of inclusion and diversity, as reported by Buzzfeed.
“It’s time for Italy to become like many other countries, like France and England, which integrate people that come from outside,” the 27-year-old said in an interview for Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper. “For me it wouldn’t change much. I’m here to score goals, not to be the captain, and you can be an example even without the armband. But it could be an important sign for all those migrants who come to Italy and see me, originally from Africa, become captain of the national team.”
Salvini, who recently took office as deputy prime minister, replied: “The captain should be representative, should play football well, and doesn’t have to be white, yellow, or green. I hope the manager doesn’t choose the captain for sociological, philosophical, or anthropological reasons, but because he unites the dressing room, is humble, and plays well. Balotelli might surprise me, but in the past he hasn’t seemed to me to be a humble person that unites everyone.”
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Salvini followed up by tweeting that “jus soli” (“right of the soil” or “right to citizenship,” which grants citizenship to anyone born in the territory of a country) was not his priority, “nor that of Italians,” the Independent reported.
“Dear Mario, ‘jus soli’ isn’t my priority, nor that of Italians,” Salvini tweeted in response to Balotelli’s comments, “Regards, and have fun chasing the ball.”
Balotelli later commented on how he thought it was unfair that although he was born and raised in Italy, as the son of migrant parents, under Italian law he could not become an Italian citizen until he turned 18. “I was born in Italy, grew up in Italy; I’ve never been to Africa, but I only became Italian at 18,” Balotelli told reporters.
Balotelli has also spoken of the racism he faced, not just as a child but even as a star athlete.
“Growing up, he has spoken about how he often wasn’t allowed to play with other boys because he was Black. Fans of Juventus, when Balotelli was at rivals Inter Milan, used to sing gleeful chants about his death. Monkey chants and bananas aimed at him are commonplace,” the Independent reported.
And the racism has continued.
In one match, fans from the opposing team called him a “monkey”, and shouted “go back to Africa” from the stands, Balotelli recalls. In another incident, Balotelli was in a bar in Rome when two men passing by on a motorcycle slowed down, repeatedly shouted the n-word at him to catch his attention, and threw a bunch of bananas at him, the Independent reported.
Like the U.S. and many European countries, Italy is dealing with intense racism against immigrants.
At least 1 million sub-Saharan Africans have moved to Europe since 2010, according to Pew Research Center. As of 2017, nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of Europe’s sub-Saharan immigrant population was concentrated in four countries: the UK (1.27 million), France (980,000), Italy (370,000) and Portugal (360,000).
“Italy has always had a complex relationship with race. It is still a young country with few historical ethnic minority communities and the phenomenon of ‘campanilismo’ or attachment to one’s hometown exacerbates differences in identity acutely,” the Independent reported.
"It is time to wake up"
-Mario Balotelli is ready for Italy to be more inclusive and fight back against racism pic.twitter.com/Oxqb0F8zzy
— Goal UK (@GoalUK) June 4, 2018