Berlusconi brother slammed for soccer player slur
Last week it was Silvio Berlusconi who got into hot water for
praising Benito Mussolini. This week it’s the former premier’s
younger brother who has sparked outrage – by calling an Italian
superstar soccer player of African descent the family’s ”little
In a much viewed video clip, Paolo Berlusconi told a crowd of
supporters Sunday that he was off to the soccer stadium to see
Mario Balotelli, a prolific striker recently acquired by his
brother’s AC Milan soccer team – calling him by an insulting and
patronizing term for black people.
Italy has had blatant episodes of racism in soccer, with monkey
chants against black players a relatively common occurrence. Paolo
Berlusconi’s racist quip in Milan (“Now, let’s go see the family’s
little black boy, the hot head”) provoked chuckles among the
friendly crowd, although scathing comments soon flooded the
While the brothers’ comments have caused international
bafflement, there may be a political element.
They come in the midst of an election campaign in which the
elder Berlusconi hopes to make a political comeback, and have
raised speculation his camp sees any public stir as one that will
help their cause, especially as it angles for far-right
Silvio Berlusconi raised eyebrows last week by praising the late
Italian fascist dictator for having ”done good” as Europe
observed Holocaust remembrance day. Some commentators saw a ploy to
steal votes from a new small but growing far-right force.
There has also been speculation that Berlusconi bought the
services of the popular Balotelli in the first place to boost his
election chances. Team officials have described Balotelli’s
transfer from Manchester City as a dream come true. The billionaire
business baron, who has been premier three times since creating a
center-right party in the early 1990s, has been running second in
most opinion polls, behind the center-left’s candidate.
A cartoon in Corriere della Sera recently depicted Berlusconi
after the Balotelli deal as campaigning as a black man in an AC
Milan uniform. The media mogul on Wednesday denied that his team
acquired Balotelli to secure an advantage at the ballot box – not
just on the football pitch.
”I had no thought, not even 0.0 percent, that Balotelli could
help the electoral campaign,” Berlusconi said during a radio
Balotelli, a member of the Italian national soccer team, was
born in Sicily to Ghanaian parents. His spectacular skills have won
him millions of fans, even as his volatile personality has brought
him his own share of controversy.
Immigration is a relatively new phenomenon in Italy, which for
many years had been a source of emigrants, first to the Americas,
and then to northern Europe. The main coalition partner in
Berlusconi’s three governments was an anti-immigrant party whose
former leader once referred to immigrants as `’bingo bongos.”
Children born in Italy who have non-Italian parents have to wait
until they are 18 before they can become Italian citizens.
Reflecting usage by the broader Italian public, Italian
mainstream media often use cliches long shunned in other cultures
to refer to foreigners. For example, it is not uncommon for news
stories to refer to Chinese on second, or even first reference as
those `’people with almond-shaped eyes.”
As more Italians travel abroad, and as their children
increasingly sit side-by-side in classrooms with immigrants’
offspring – who speak Italian like the locals and root for Italy’s
soccer teams – sensitivity to racial and ethnic slurs is slowing
Balotelli was often the target of racial chants from opposing
fans when he played for Inter, AC Milan’s cross-town rival.
Juventus fans once hung a banner saying, `’Black Italians don’t
But there are concrete signs of progress.
Last month, Balotelli’s new teammates at Berlusconi’s squad
walked off the field during a friendly after racist chants were
directed at midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng, who is from Ghana.
Balotelli made no immediate public comment about Paolo
Berlusconi, the vice-president of AC Milan, describing him as the
household’s ”little black boy.” But he has been cautiously
optimistic about changing attitudes toward blacks on a continent
where they are relatively recently new arrivals in large
”Racism is very tough to fight,” Balotelli said recently. `’I
really don’t know how to defeat it. You need to keep firm and
sooner or later we’ll win,” he said.
On Sunday, at the game Paolo Berlusconi set out to watch,
Balotelli scored both of his new team’s goals in a 2-1 win over