Dept. of Sport Sciences, Malmö University
In the book, The Balotelli Generation: Issues of inclusion and belonging in Italian football and society, author Max Mauro critically studies intersectional aspects of football participation of young (male) football players of immigrant background in Italy. Mauro takes his point of departure in highlighting distinctions between intent and real-life experiences concerning regulations, structures and norms within contemporary football. Football is considered the most global and popular of all sports and it engages millions of people around the globe, from top professional realms down to grassroots levels. Similarly, sports in general, and football in particular, often emphasise vast advantages and benefits by being engaged in football. The author has here specifically identified the concepts inclusion and belongingness as significant communicative tools for engagement into the football world. As a result, Mauro sets out to investigate and explore aspects that affect inclusion/exclusion and conditions for acquiring belongingness.
Mauro’s main empirical data is derived from 40 in-depth interviews with young (male) football players with immigrant background in order to identify aspects of exclusion and inclusion and to find coping mechanisms identified and used for acquiring a sense of belongingness. Beside these interviews comes a large amount of empirical data from Mauro’s previous works and from supplementary methods such as observations of, and conversations with football figures, as well as document analyses with a broad entry and of various cases, settings and institutions. The selection and presentation of empirical findings are well re-told, analysed and articulated throughout the book which provides rich and spot-on perspectives and it gives the reader real-life and credible insights.
Although the main setting of the book is Italian-based, the author also gives rich examples of various other geographical and institutional contexts that follow the intention and formulation of the book’s aim. This even more so highlights and delineates a broad problematic relationship between intent and real-life experiences regarding inclusion/exclusion and belongingness. Mauro also elevates and discusses valid and interesting historical and statistical data which delineate vital insights of a contemporary football realm. The research pinpoints aspects of inclusion and participation but similarly also identifies and delineates specific issues regarding retaining and integrating youth with immigrant background. In Italy, there are multiple hindering aspects for youth of immigrant background (especially from non-European Union countries) to feel fully recognized in the Italian society. Specifically, Mauro points out that one significant aspect is that youngsters with immigrant background (even though they are born in Italy) cannot obtain Italian citizenship until the age of 18. Such an example highlights a potential lack of belongingness to the Italian society, which also becomes an issue for football documentation and registration purposes. Hence, these youngsters are already excluded from the so-called “inclusive” realm of football. Mauro gives many clear and real-life examples to emphasizes his findings and he paints an important and must-be-seen portrait of those who often are excluded and marginalised in both sports and society.The bureaucracy of documentations and registrations prevents certain groups of individuals from football participation.
Another significant aspect of exclusion and sense of belongingness is in particular outlined in chapter five, “Learning to cope with racism”. Here Mauro provides important insights and discusses structural issues regarding the presence of racism in contemporary football. Again, the author delivers real-life examples from his empirical findings where the emerging picture shows the ugly face of racism. Through these examples, the reader will find out that racism is an everyday part of the football discourse, as racial rhetoric and language becomes normalised – this most certainly gives insights into the severity of malfunctioning structures within contemporary football. Although measures are taken against racism by governing football bodies, racism does exists in everyday football and is also nurtured by various institutions in society. As an example, Mauro argues that media plays a big part and contributes to normalising racism in football by using rhetoric and language about individual’s skin colour in condescending ways. The author gives here the example of Mario Balotelli and the way he was mistreated in media following Italy’s departure of the 2014 World Cup where a lot of attention was focused on Balotelli as a “traitor” or as not being “one of us”.
Mauro’s investigation shows that there exist structural issues within both society and football. It highlights that even though various measures have the intent of increased inclusion, there are continuously aspects that also lead to exclusion. The bureaucracy of documentations and registrations prevents certain groups of individuals from football participation. Specifically, it hinders youngsters from non-EU countries as paperwork is harder to obtain, sometimes even not possible at all. Beside initial paperwork, there are various additional aspects and structures that limit inclusion and any sense of belongingness for these individuals. The book identifies and problematizes that structures within football and society, such as normalised racism, citizen regulations and discrimination are vital aspects to consider and that these need to be challenged in order to obtain “full” inclusion and a true sense of belongingness.
The Balotelli Generation: Issues of inclusion and belonging in Italian football is a well-written, informative and, most of all, important book. Max Mauro delivers a significant contribution to the body of literature concerning both inclusion/exclusion and racism but also regarding governance as it provides vital guidelines for how football’s governing bodies should work with “authentic” inclusion.
Copyright © Mattias Melkersson 2018