By Kyle Bonn
File this under yet another inconceivable act by Italian fans in the prolonged saga of racial abuse in Serie A, most recently aimed at Brescia forward Mario Balotelli.
After the striker was racially abused at a game against Hellas Verona last weekend in which monkey chants could clearly be heard in videos taken from the away stand, Balotelli exploded, kicking the ball into the stands and nearly walking off the pitch before pleas from players on both sides managed to calm him and keep him on the field.
Days after the game, Hellas Verona ultras released a stunningly irresponsible and senseless statement in which they defended their actions, claimed Balotelli was not fully Italian, and said Balotelli had “voices in his head.” As a result of the statement, leader of the ultras Luca Castellini was banned by Hellas Verona for 11 years.
Now, fans of his own team have followed suit, releasing a statement accusing Balotelli of “arrogance” for his actions in response to the abuse. Brescia ultras posted a long diatribe on their website claiming that Balotelli’s character makes it hard to root for him (as they put it, “conflicting and unflattering opinions even before he wore our shirt”), and declared themselves insulted by the “witch-hunt…in yet another attempt to criminalize and destroy the entire ultras world.”
Instead of defending their player in the face of racial abuse, the statement criticizes Balotelli for his mental state. “We were not the only ones to have had doubts about him,” the statement claims. “It is true that thousands of fans from different Italian/foreign fanbases first welcomed him with open arms, and then disavowed him for his attitude.”
“No one has ever put pressure on him, so the nervousness that grips him and turns him negative every time he takes the field is unjustified, at least for us,” they wrote.
The statement did condemn the monkey chants, but seemed to pound over and over that a small, criminal minority does not define a supporter group. “This obviously does not mean that some chants are legitimate and acceptable, but also that the [Verona] fans are not all racists, and that the Curva del Verona is a sort of KKK den, as some would have us believe.”
It is stunning that a supporter group would attack its own player for his emotional reaction in the face of racial abuse, rather than lift him up with the support befitting of such a scenario. To think a player is “arrogant” for responding angrily to such vile chants from the crowd only proves further the systemic issues Serie A faces in tackling racial abuse.
The league has already passed judgement on the situation, having ordered the closure of Verona’s Poltrone Est stand for one game.