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The Balotelli Generation

Issues of Inclusion and Belonging in Italian Football and Society


Max Mauro

Sports governing bodies, governments and European institutions highlight the inclusive power of sport and its capacity to foster a sense of belonging among youth of immigrant background. At the same time, sport at youth and grassroots level can be as much an exclusionary as an inclusive experience. As a country of relatively short immigration history and with a great passion for sport, particularly football, Italy makes a compelling case on which to situate an analysis of sport participation of youth of immigrant background and issues of representation in relation to national identity. The book originates from 40 in-depth interviews with young players aged seventeen to twenty-three, born in Italy to immigrant parents or raised in Italy since their childhood. It further collates over thirty interviews and conversations with coaches, club and league administrators, educators, and migrants’ rights activists. Analysis of official documents and media analysis further contribute to the construction of a specific body of knowledge which sheds an unprecedented light on issues which are at the forefront of policy discussions and media discourses across Europe.

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Sport is the arena where it all comes together: race, class, gender, nation, capitalism, empire, neo-liberalism, globalization. The sporting body is a metaphor for the social under late capitalism (Norman K. Denzin).

When I ask anyone today where they are from I expect to hear a very long answer (Stuart Hall).

Nessuno può chiedere al nuovo venuto di dove venga, né il motivo per cui vuole andarsene (Unione Libera Italiana del Calcio, 1917).1

One of the quotations which I have chosen to open the book particularly exemplifies the underlying motive for this work. According to the dictionary «motive» is said to refer to a «an emotion, desire, physiological need, or similar impulse that acts as an incitement to action». It is exactly what the quotation taken from the statute of the long-time defunct Free Italian Union of Football represents to me: no one can ask the newcomer where he is coming from, nor the reason why he wants to leave. When I was about to put on paper the final notes of the book I thought back to those words written about a hundred years ago and I could not believe how contemporary they are. Europe, the scene of and the setting for this book, is facing the largest movement of people since WWII (World War II). Intensive migration flows from the so-called south of the world to Western Europe have caused the most serious crisis in the history of the...

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