Professional footballer Mario Balotelli is furious. Because Italy’s first black senator Toni Iwobi ran for the wrong party – the xenophobic Lega.
Balotelli is stunned Photo: reuters
When Toni Iwobi takes his seat in the small chamber of parliament – the Senate – in two weeks, he plans to campaign there for the consistent deportation of migrants who have entered Italy without papers. This is not surprising at first; Iwobi belongs to the Lega. The xenophobic and Euro-hostile party, which also no longer wants to allow a single boat refugee into the country, had skyrocketed to 18 percent in the parliamentary elections in early March.
Many, however, feel alienated by the fact that Iwobi is also the first black senator in the history of the Italian Republic. Born in Nigeria, he has lived near Bergamo for decades and is married to a northern Italian woman.
Until recently, the Lega, a purely regional party with a clear aversion to the south of the country and "thieving Rome," had also located itself in the north. Only its current leader, Matteo Salvini, changed course when he took over the leadership of the then weakening party four years ago. It was Salvini who appointed Iwobi as the Lega’s immigration commissioner. In photos from an election campaign event, both were seen wearing white shirts with the words "Stop Invasione" – "Stop the Invasion."
Iwobi is now earning sharp criticism from Mario Balotelli for his entry into the Senate under the Lega banner. The Italian professional footballer wrote on Instagram, "Maybe I’m blind, or maybe they haven’t told him he’s black yet. Shame on you!!!"
Toni Iwobi Photo: imago/Zuma Press
The 27-year-old former international, who was born in Palermo to Ghanaian immigrants, has always been marginalized in his career. When he played for Inter Milan, early in his career, fans of arch-rivals Juventus Torino chanted across Europe, "Non esistono negri italiani." There are no black Italians. They chanted it when their team played Bayern and against Bordeaux, and it was clear who they meant.
After all, if there are Lega voters among the Juve fans, they’ll have to do some deep soul-searching now.