Mario Balotelli is fed up with racism. He should be.
Talking exclusively to CNN International, the dynamic Italian striker said that he will walk off the field the next time he experiences racism.
“I always said that if it (racism) happened in the stadium I just do like, ‘Nobody says nothing and I don’t care,'” Balotelli told Pedro Pinto.
“But this time I think I changed my mind a little bit. If it’s going to happen one more time I’m going to leave the pitch because it’s so stupid.”
Good for him.
If FIFA isn’t going to do enough to change the culture of international football, the players—Balotelli being one of the most high-profile—need to take a stand, even if that means walking off the field.
Balotelli’s comments may be borne out of frustration, as he and AC Milan teammate Kevin-Prince Boateng again had to deal with racist chants and gestures from the stands as an abhorrent lot of AS Roma fans racially abused both players earlier this week.
Enough already. Why, in 2013, are there still people in this world who think it’s OK to mock a person for the color of his skin? Why was it ever OK?
Last year, Balotelli made similar comments to his remarks on CNN International, suggesting during Euro 2012 that he would walk off the field if fans harassed him.
Per The Telegraph, he stated, “I cannot bear racism, it’s unacceptable for me. If it had happened again I would straight away leave the pitch and go home. We are in 2012. It can’t happen …"
A year later, it’s still happening, and no matter what FIFA boss Sepp Blatter says about it—he publicly admonished the Italian league for its paltry fine to Roma after the incident—things haven’t gotten better.
We cannot live in a sports world where players fear for their safety on the field. That’s exactly what this is, just as much as disgust and anger: It's fear.
If a group of fans thinks it’s OK to throw banana peels at players on the field, what’s stopping one of them from taking that next step? What’s stopping one of these racist louts from doing something far worse?
Blatter doesn’t think walking away is the answer. When Boateng walked off the field during an AC Milan friendly with Pro Patria last year, Blatter was against the decision, claiming there was a better solution. Via The Guardian:
Quoted in The National, a United Arab Emirates newspaper, he said: "Walk off? No. I don't think that is the solution…I don't think you can run away, because then the team should have to forfeit the match.
"This issue is a very touchy subject, but I repeat there is zero tolerance of racism in the stadium, we have to go against that.”
There may be zero tolerance from FIFA, but it seems like there is less than zero being done by FIFA.
Blatter is little more than a social mouthpiece on the issue. The time for words has long since passed. The time for action—even if that means walking off the field—is here.
Pinto asked Balotelli why he didn’t walk off during the AS Roma match this week, especially considering his previous comments.
Pedro Pinto: "Did you talk to Prince (Kevin-Prince Boateng) about that? About leaving?"
Mario Balotelli: "Yeah, I spoke with Prince. I was about to leave the pitch even on Sunday but they think I want to leave because maybe we have some difficulty with the game and then we are going to win 3-0 and I say, 'No, it’s better we play and I will talk,’ that’s it.
"But if it wasn’t for this reason then I was going to leave the pitch on Sunday."
It shouldn’t be up to the players, but it might have to be.
Balotelli’s problem is that circumstances in a match might dictate his reaction to the crowd. If he walks off when his team is losing, his action could look like he was trying to avoid a defeat. If he walks off when his team is leading, he runs the risk of the referee continuing the match without him, putting his team at a distinct disadvantage.
The system has failed these players. Remember, this recent incident wasn’t a situation where one player said something during a free kick to a player on the other team. This was a situation where we saw loud chanting from the stands, players being harassed during throw-ins and corner kicks, and objects being thrown at them on the field.
A precedent must be set, and kicking out the one or two most egregious offenders from the stands is not enough.
Teams need to properly police their fans, UEFA needs to properly police its leagues and FIFA needs to properly police its federations. Racism in international football is a global issue, and players should be protected by the powers that be.
Players shouldn’t have to take the situation into their own hands, but with the systematic inaction by those in charge of the sport, they have very little recourse.
It’s going to take someone with the stature of Balotelli or Boateng to walk off during a match that actually matters for those in charge—Blatter included—to take this seriously.
Maybe it’s time one of them should.