Image: AP Photo/Fabrizio Giovannozzi.
They say there’s a fine line between genius and madness. Mario Balotelli’s off-pitch exploits imply that the Manchester City and Italy striker has one of those areas covered, but is his latest statement a hint of the other?
On Wednesday, Balotelli said he is prepared to walk off the pitch if fans racially abuse him at EURO 2012. So far, two England players’ families have decided not to attend the tournament due to warnings from the Foreign Office about the potential for racist abuse/attacks.
BBC TV’s Panorama programme on Monday ran footage of Polish fans making monkey chants and attacking Asian fans although the Polish footballing authorities insist the portrayal was “one sided”.
Unfortunately though, it isn’t just an international problem. Last season saw Liverpool players publically declaring support for Luis Suarez in the wake of the Evra scandal; Kenny Dalglish’s unconditional backing of his player arguably damaging his and the club’s reputation with their own fans and the wider public.
Chelsea fans booing Anton Ferdinand when QPR played at Stamford Bridge because he complained about alleged racist abuse received from Chelsea captain John Terry shocked many. The subsequent selection of Terry into the England squad at the expense of Ferdinand’s brother Rio, despite Terry facing prosecution for the offence after the tournament, suggests that the problem is not a priority for the FA.
So, if we assume that football authorities at all levels are only going to offer superficial fixes to this problem, how can it be dealt with? Is the only answer, as Balotelli implies, for players to deal with it directly?
Obviously, walking off the pitch as a response to abuse from crowds is an extraordinarily provocative act. There is an argument that fans may become more self regulating if there was a possibility their club’s league position and/or international standing would be damaged by such action.
But conversely, people who pay a significant proportion of their salary to attend football games may feel that a player should represent their teams interests, not his own. Such acts could be perceived as provocative and an abuse of ‘player power’, which is already cited as widening the growing disengagement between fans and their clubs.
One thing is certain. The EURO 2012 competition, which begins next week, is going to be a watershed moment for racism in football. Hopefully, it will not be brought to a head by someone taking Balotelli up on another assertion he made in the same interview; that he “would kill” anyone who threw a banana at him in the street.
It would certainly take a genius to gloss over that one.