Mario Balotelli focus of racially charged remarks.
Younger brother of former prime minister and team owner Silvio Berlusconi caught on camera saying: "OK, we are all off to see the family's little black boy"
Italian football expert and author John Foot says Paulo Berlusconi's words are offensive on several levels.
Foot adds that there "hasn't been a debate in Italy about racist language"
Not for the first time Mario Balotelli, who plays for one of Europe’s biggest soccer teams AC Milan, is in the spotlight again.
The Italian international is the focus of racially charged remarks made by Milan vice president Paulo Berlusconi, the younger brother of former prime minister and team owner Silvio Berlusconi.
During a political rally for his brother where he invited the public to an upcoming match, the younger Berlusconi was caught on camera – the video is now featured on the website of Italian newspaper La Repubblica – saying: “OK, we are all off to see the family’s little black boy.
“He’s a crazy head. All the young ladies are invited as well – you can even have a chance to meet the president [Silvio Berlusconi].”
Milan declined to comment on the remarks when contacted by CNN, while Balotelli’s representatives have yet to respond to phone and email messages.
Italy national team striker Balotelli joined Milan last week after a two-and-a-half-year stint with English champions Manchester City, during which time he attracted media attention for his off-field antics and ill discipline on the pitch.
The incident involving Berlusconi’s brother comes one month after another racial incident involving a black AC Milan player.
AC’s German-born Ghanaian international midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng walked off the pitch after being subjected to racist chanting during a friendly match with fourth division team Pro Patria.
Silvio Berlusconi, as well as world football head Sepp Blatter, backed Boateng for taking a strong stance against prejudicial abuse, though the FIFA president noted that walk-offs are not a long-term solution to the problem.
Italian football expert and author John Foot explained how Paulo Berlusconi’s words were offensive on several levels.
“It is an insult,” Foot told CNN. “It’s not n***** translated, but it would translate as ‘little negro’ or ‘little family negro’. A lot of Italians wouldn’t necessarily see it as racist, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t.
“I’m sure Balotelli would see it as an insult. Even if you take the racial element out of it, it is quite insulting. The idea that they own this person has a lot of other connotations.”
Balotelli played for AC’s city rivals Inter Milan between 2006 and 2010, during which time he was subjected to racist abuse by Juventus fans during a match in 2009.
Foot thinks how Balotelli responds should such an incident occur again in the future could shape how Italian football tackles racism.
“When the first racist chants appear in a game he is playing in, are the players going to walk off?” Foot asked. “That is going to be a key moment. I think it will happen.
“It has entered into the football stadiums in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Some things have been done, but generally there is not a zero tolerance approach towards it.
“It’s not just individuals. In Italy it could be a large part of the hardcore fans doing it, therefore it is a lot harder to deal with.
“I think the Boateng incident was really positive because it put the issue on the agenda and said, ‘We’re not going to take this anymore’ and he was backed by the authorities which was really good.
“Let’s see if they put their money where their mouth is and walk off during a Serie A game which is on television. If they do, I think it will have an impact.”
When the deal – worth around $31 million – to bring Balotelli to AC was announced last week, La Stampa estimated the signing of “Super Mario” could be worth 400,000 votes in Silvio Berlusconi’s bid for re-election in Italy later this month.
While the incident could damage Berlusconi’s image abroad, Foot doubted it would affect his popularity in Italy.
“His reputation abroad is pretty appalling anyway,” added Foot. “There hasn’t been a debate in Italy about racist language. For a long time they used to use words to describe immigrants which were absolutely racist.
“It is something I don’t think will have an impact on Berlusconi domestically.”
The word “negro” was the subject of a racism storm in England in 2011, when Patrice Evra of Manchester United claimed he had repeatedly been called the word by Liverpool’s Luis Suarez.
The accusations sparked a debate over cultural differences over the word’s meaning.
Some claimed it was a term of endearment used in Uruguay, however Suarez was handed an eight-match ban and a £40,000 ($63,000) fine by England’s football association.
Kwadwo Asamoah is a Ghana international who plays for AC’s Serie A rivals Juventus.
Meanwhile, speaking from the Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa, where Ghana play Burkina Faso in Wednesday’s semifinal, Kwadwo Asamoah, who plays for Milan’s Serie A rivals Juventus, called for an end to racist abuse in football.
“Football is about coming together,” the 24-year-old Ghana international told CNN. “When it comes to something like this it makes you feel like you’re not a human being.
“What I would say is please stop this racism because we are all one, we are all human beings. Football is about fun and bringing people together.”