The Ghanian-born forward has been a constant target of abuse from opposing supporters.
The Ghanian-born forward has been a constant target of abuse from opposing supporters.

Stuck in the dark ages

Mario Balotelli endures abuse that no 19-year-old should suffer - for no other reason than because he is black. There is the graffiti on walls leading to the San Siro, where the Inter Milan striker plays. "Non sei un vero Italiano, sei un Africano nero," it says. Translation: "You are not a true Italian, you are a black African."

There are the unprintable racist chants and vicious boos he hears when he plays, and which live on even after matches are over in videos on the Internet. There was the time in Rome last June when, his sister says, hooligans threatened him and hurled a bunch of bananas into the bar where Balotelli was relaxing with fellow players from Italy's Under 21 squad, prompting the owner to call the police. And what have the Italian league done in response to the insults he regularly faces? Unbelievably, they slapped Balotelli with a ?7,000 (Dh37,000) fine last week.

"It's like the world is upside down," Cristina Balotelli says. "It's ridiculous, and I think my brother just doesn't want to think about it because he is so disgusted." In a fairer world, all you would need to know about Balotelli is that he is young, gifted, quick, muscular, scores goals and is nicknamed "Super Mario". He joined Inter in 2006. He made his first-team debut in December of the following year, aged just 17, as a late substitute in a 2-0 win against Cagliari. Two days after that, he scored twice in a 4-1 crushing of Reggina. With 23 goals in 68 games, a call-up to Italy's national squad may not be far off.

But the racists do not see Balotelli's skills, just the colour of his skin. Even when Inter are not playing, he has been targeted for abuse. Prosecutors in France are investigating taunts about Balotelli that Juventus supporters shouted when the club played French champions Bordeaux in the Champions League last November. Juventus fans again sang racist slurs directed at Balotelli on Wednesday, despite a plea made over Stadio Olimpico's public address system asking them to stop.

Cristina Balotelli said it is a testament to his force of character that her brother manages not to be cowed by the hatred flowing from a vocal minority of "very ignorant people" who "need an enemy and they need someone to curse". "He gets very upset but then ... he doesn't think about it any more, this is a strength," his sister says. "Of course, I know that he is hurt. If he decides to move abroad, it shouldn't just be because of this. It's like to run away, it's like to be defeated."

It is nothing new in Italy. In 2001, when 18-year-old Nigerian forward Schengun Omolade took the field for Treviso, fans hoisted a banner that said, "We don't want a black player on our team" and then left the stadium. Before that, hooligans in Rome held aloft a large banner aimed at opposing Jewish fans: "Auschwitz Is Your Country; the Ovens Are Your Homes." In 2005, Ivorian defender Marc Zoro was reduced to tears by racist boos and insults hurled at him by Inter supporters.

There have been modest fines, bans and threats from up high that matches could be suspended or that clubs could even be sent down to lower leagues. And yet, as Balotelli knows too well, still it goes on. Deep-rooted racism is not restricted to Italian football - as was shown last week when violent clashes erupted between African crop-pickers and local residents in southern Italy. After those riots, in which dozens were injured, Cristina Balotelli found herself fending off calls from reporters looking for comment from her brother, as if he must have something to say as one of the few high-profile black Italian success stories. That, in itself, suggests how widely Balotelli is marked out for his colour in Italy.

"I said, 'What has my brother got to do with this?"' she says. "We don't have black politicians. He became a symbol of too many things." At times it all becomes too much for the 19-year-old. A week ago in Verona, in a match Inter won thanks to Balotelli's lone goal, he again heard insults and boos. In response, Balotelli mocked the crowd, ironically applauding when he was substituted and by saying in a post-match TV interview that "the fans are more and more sickening". The Italian league's fine followed the next day.

If Inter's subsequent appeal is rejected, then it will be a victory for hooligans. "He just applauded for two seconds," his brother, Corrado, said. "It's crazy." * AP

Neymar's bio

Total club appearances 411

Total goals scored 241

Appearances for Barca 186

Goals scored for Barca 105

Our legal advisor

Ahmad El Sayed is Senior Associate at Charles Russell Speechlys, a law firm headquartered in London with offices in the UK, Europe, the Middle East and Hong Kong.

Experience: Commercial litigator who has assisted clients with overseas judgments before UAE courts. His specialties are cases related to banking, real estate, shareholder disputes, company liquidations and criminal matters as well as employment related litigation. 

Education: Sagesse University, Beirut, Lebanon, in 2005.

The bio:

Favourite film:

Declan: It was The Commitments but now it’s Bohemian Rhapsody.

Heidi: The Long Kiss Goodnight.

Favourite holiday destination:

Declan: Las Vegas but I also love getting home to Ireland and seeing everyone back home.

Heidi: Australia but my dream destination would be to go to Cuba.

Favourite pastime:

Declan: I love brunching and socializing. Just basically having the craic.

Heidi: Paddleboarding and swimming.

Personal motto:

Declan: Take chances.

Heidi: Live, love, laugh and have no regrets.



Director: Ali Selim
Stars: Samuel L Jackson, Olivia Coleman, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Emilia Clarke
Rating: 3/5

Confirmed bouts (more to be added)

Cory Sandhagen v Umar Nurmagomedov
Nick Diaz v Vicente Luque
Michael Chiesa v Tony Ferguson
Deiveson Figueiredo v Marlon Vera
Mackenzie Dern v Loopy Godinez

Tickets for the August 3 Fight Night, held in partnership with the Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi, went on sale earlier this month, through and

Cheeseburger ingredients

Price for a single burger £0.44
Price for a single bun £0.17
Price for a single cheese slice £0.04
Price for 10g Gherkins is less than £0.01
Price for 10g ketchup is less than £0.01
Price for 10g mustard is less than £0.01
Price for 10g onions is less than £0.01

Total 68p

Credit: Meal Delivery Experts


Elena Rybakina (Kazakhstan)
Ons Jabeur (Tunisia)
Maria Sakkari (Greece)
Barbora Krejčíková (Czech Republic)
Beatriz Haddad Maia (Brazil)
Jeļena Ostapenko (Latvia)
Liudmila Samsonova
Daria Kasatkina 
Veronika Kudermetova 
Caroline Garcia (France) 
Magda Linette (Poland) 
Sorana Cîrstea (Romania) 
Anastasia Potapova 
Anhelina Kalinina (Ukraine)  
Jasmine Paolini (Italy) 
Emma Navarro (USA) 
Lesia Tsurenko (Ukraine)
Naomi Osaka (Japan) - wildcard
Emma Raducanu (Great Britain) - wildcard


Name: Floward
Based: Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Founders: Abdulaziz Al Loughani and Mohamed Al Arifi
Sector: E-commerce
Total funding: About $200 million
Investors: Aljazira Capital, Rainwater Partners, STV and Impact46
Number of employees: 1,200


Company name: Klipit

Started: 2022

Founders: Venkat Reddy, Mohammed Al Bulooki, Bilal Merchant, Asif Ahmed, Ovais Merchant

Based: Dubai, UAE

Industry: Digital receipts, finance, blockchain

Funding: $4 million

Investors: Privately/self-funded

Director: Nag Ashwin

Starring: Prabhas, Saswata Chatterjee, Deepika Padukone, Amitabh Bachchan, Shobhana

Rating: ★★★★


Keep up with all the Middle East and North Africa athletes at the 2024 Paris Olympics

      By signing up, I agree to The National's privacy policy