Mario Balotelli, who was born Mario Barwuah to immigrants from Ghana in Palermo, rushed over to embrace his Jewish foster mother, Silvia Balotelli, after Italy’s win over Germany on Thursday.
ROME (EJP)---Mario Balotelli, the 21-year-old black Italian football star whose two goals against Germany have fired Italy into Sunday’s final of the Euro 2012 championships, was raised by a Jewish Italian foster mother from the age of three.
According to media reports, Balotelli, who was born Mario Barwuah to immigrants from Ghana in Palermo, rushed over to embrace his foster mother, Silvia Balotelli, after Italy’s win over Germany.
He dedicated his goals to his mother who had come from Italy to watch him play, Balotelli said. ”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. 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. My father will be in Kiev for the final too.”
Along with other members of the Italian team, Balotelli had visited the former Auschwitz death camp earlier this month before the start of the Euro 2012 which is being co-hosted by Poland. He was reportedly the player most affected by the visit.
Reports said Balotelli sat down alone on the train tracks at the death camp, staring silently ahead. “A while later, he tells his team-mates about a box of letters that his Jewish adoptive mother kept underneath her bed. He had never told anyone.”
Some neo-Nazi groups, in Italy and beyond, who had already been abusing the player because he is black, are now also targeting him for his Jewish “ancestry.”
“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 team coach Cesare Prandelli called the racism “a social problem” rather than “an Italian problem.”
Balotelli, 21, was one of four children born to Christian parents Thomas and Rose Barwuah, immigrants from Ghana. He suffered with life-threatening health issues, requiring frequent intestinal surgery, and his poor health put a heavy strain on his already impoverished family.
After they sought state assistance following a move to Milan, the authorities suggested he be placed into foster care.
“That’s how Mario Barwuah came into contact with the Balotellis” — Francesco and Silvia – ”a family who lived in a villa in a small nearby village. At first, he stayed at the Balotellis during the week and returned to his family on weekends.
But after a while things changed. Mario started to treat his (biological) parents with indifference. Ultimately, he took his weekday family’s surname.”
When he became successful as a soccer player, his biological parents sought to re-enter his life, but Balotelli rejected them as “glory hunters.”
Despite his unpromising health and complex family background, Balotelli proved to be a soccer prodigy, becoming the youngest player ever to play in Italy’s third division, at age 15, and ultimately impressing as a player for top Italian side Inter Milan.
He then moved to Britain’s Manchester City, with whom he won the Premier League title the past season.
Italian Jewish monthly magazine Pagine Ebraiche called Balotelli "the symbol of the commitment that brings together the experience of immigration, of acceptance and of success. But he is also a tribute to his adoptive mother, the Italian Jew who welcomed the child and whose family suffered during the dark years of the Shoah."