Super Mario isn’t racist – he just made a mistake
Mario Balotelli is a brilliant football player with an uncanny knack for attracting negative headlines. ‘Super Mario’ is rarely out of the news: one week he’s letting off fireworks in his own bathroom; the next, he’s explaining to the police why he’s got £5,000 in his back pocket (‘because I am rich’). Now the Liverpool striker has been caught up in another storm, but this time it is much more serious.
Balotelli recently posted a meme on Instagram under the heading ‘Don’t Be a Racist’. The post, which featured a picture of videogame character and Balotelli’s namesake, Super Mario, said: ‘Be like Mario. He’s an Italian plumber, created by Japanese people, who speaks English and looks like a Mexican.’ If that wasn’t enough, it went on to state: ‘He jumps like a black man and grabs coins like a Jew.’ This has caused the more fervent members of the constantly offended Twitterati to slate Balotelli. He instantly apologised, but that wasn’t enough for his more vociferous critics who have called for Balotelli to be banned by the Football Association (FA) on the charge of racism.
The thing is, Balotelli is not a racist. For a start, his mother is Jewish (although that isn’t a license to be anti-Semitic). And Balotelli, the first black player to play for Italy in a major tournament, has himself been on the end of racist abuse several times. He is one of the last people to be racist, I believe. His post was tasteless, but to ban him for five games (the minimum sanction for racist conduct) is absolutely ridiculous.
Balotelli said he posted the photo because he felt the image had a good anti-racist vibe. And given how daft Balotelli is, that is more than believable. But that has not stopped the FA from charging him.
The problem is that the FA seems to believe that it holds the right to impose its interpretation of what is right and wrong on to everyone else. It seems to believe that because players are ‘role models’, it has the right to tell them what they can and can’t say. And it completely ignores the intention behind the words.
I have an issue with this language-policing, since the job of the players is to play football, not to give the populace a moral lesson. Our children may look up to these footballers, but it is our duty as adults to educate children as to what is right and wrong, not the FA’s. The extension of the FA’s jurisdiction into non-footballing matters is a step too far.
Henry Francis is a writer based in Manchester.