Mario Balotelli: The Jewish Hero of Euro 2012?
Italian star adopted by Jewish parents
Mario Balotelli’s two goals on Thursday didn’t just propel his Italian squad past Germany and into the Euro 2012 finals to face Spain while setting off a wild celebration of Italian supporters, but his performance was also a source of nachas for the worldwide Jewish population.
For a religion that never shies away from acknowledging its own prominent celebrities, the Italian soccer hero and Manchester City striker is no doubt an unlikely, but now very much appreciated and welcomed member of the Tribe.
Balotelli, in fact, wasn’t born Jewish. He was born to Ghanaian immigrants in Sicily in 1990, and as an infant suffered from life-threatening health complications.
With his family unable to provide him with the proper medical assistance, he was put up for adoption at two years old and entrusted to Francesco and Silvia Balotelli, his Jewish foster parents.
The Balotellis were a white family who lived in a villa in a small village near Brescia, in northern Italy. At first, he stayed at the Balotellis during the week and returned to his family on weekends. He eventually grew closer to his foster family and took their surname.
Two days before the start of Euro 2012, he and his Italian teammates paid a visit to Auschwitz. There, Balotelli sat by himself on the train tracks and appeared more struck than anyone else on his team by the surroundings, according to journalists.
Throughout the tournament, Balotelli has coped with being the victim of racist abuse, as Italian neo-Nazis have spread hateful messages on the internet claiming he should not be allowed to play for Italy due to his background.
“Balotelli’s black and Jewish. He should play for Israel not Italy,” wrote a US-based website called Stormfront, run by white supremacists. The website was closed down in Italy by Jewish authorities following complaints regarding racist posts about the Italian striker.
Italy’s coach Cesare Prandelli called the racism “a social problem” rather than “an Italian problem.”
After Balotelli vowed to walk off the pitch prior to the tournament if he suffers racist chanting, Prandelli declared that “if Mario gets any problem, I will give him a big hug on the pitch.”
During the tearful visit to Auschwitz, Balotelli told his teammates about a box of letters that his Jewish adoptive mother, Silvia, kept underneath her bed.
On Thursday, he dedicated his two-goal match against Germany to Silvia.
“At the end of the game when I went to my mother, that was the best moment. I told her these goals were for her,” he said. “I waited a long time for this moment, especially as my mother is not young anymore and can’t travel far, so I had to make her happy when she came all the way here.”