The Day I Agreed with Balotelli: After Nearly Three Decades Reporting Football, Osasu Obayiuwana, Our Football Editor, Uses the Prism of the Sport to Tell His Career - and Very Personal - Story, and Why He Agrees with the Italian Striker of Ghanaian Descent, Mario Balotelli (Real Name Mario Barwuah) about Fighting Racism in Football

Article excerpt

AS THE 25TH ANNIVERSARY OF my being a football reporter, writer, and broadcaster beckons, the subject of race, in life, as well as in football, is simmering in my mind.


It is an appropriate accident of tate that I am writing about this subject from the West Tower of Nelson Mandela Square in the Johannesburg suburb of Sandton, South Africa - a country that once symbolised the profound evil that results from the institutionalisation of a perfidious system which dehumanised men and women, based on the colour of their skin. Being born to Nigerian parents in 196os Britain, a country that was, at the time, being compelled, harshly, to acknowledge that it had a new set of native-born citizens - us - whose non Anglo-Saxon backgrounds and sensitivities they could no longer ignore, I - and those of my kind - were grappling with the distinct challenge of being bicultural.

It was certainly the case for me, more than for some others, because I never properly knew my natural parents until I was eight years old. Before then, I was raised by an English working-class family in Colsterworth, a village close to the midlands town of Grantham, the hometown of Margaret Thatcher, the former British Prime Minister. Festus, my father, and Rachael, my late mother, both students in higher education at the time, chose Dennis and Celia Lewis as my foster parents, shortly after I was born. Raising me, whilst grappling with the punishing demands of coursework, would have been juggling one ball too many for my biological parents, they thought. And I certainly have no complaints about that chapter of my life, as the Lewises, who were also Mum and Dad to me, loved me as their own - a warm and close relationship that continued until they both died a decade ago. Attending both their burials, in Grantham, was a difficult experience.


Being black, whilst living with them, was an abstract, alien concept.

I was as human as anyone else and felt no different from others in a village in which Nosa, my younger brother--now doing his PhD in film studies at Queen Mary's College, London University--and I were probably its only black faces.

In the school playground and in the larger world we were happy, carefree children, unaware of the cultural upheaval the presence of our kind was causing in the wider British society.

Tory grandee Enoch Powell was a pretty busy man at the time, warning white Britain about how black people would eventually grow up to have "the whip hand" over the white population.

And a good job of scaremongering Powell did, even though present-day Britain is, thank goodness, an indictment of the gutter tactics he employed in the public sphere in the 196os and 1970s.

It was only after I went back to my natural parents, after my Dad had completed his Masters' Degree at Scotland's Strathclyde University, as they prepared to return to Nigeria - which, through my British rose-tinted glasses at that time was a frighteningly distant, scary, unknown place - did I begin to realise that being black was not regarded as "mainstream" or "normal".

My short stint at Melrose Primary School in Cumbernauld, near Glasgow (I went to three primary schools before leaving the UK), where I was bullied for no other reason than my colour, gave me an appetiser of what could have been an uglier main course. To this day, I recall the boy who made school miserable for me and how Ms Douglas, our headmistress, punished him severely for it.

I was, fortuitously, saved from the lack of self-esteem that racism could have inflicted on me, by my long sojourn in Nigeria, a place that can drive even the most mild-mannered of souls up and over the wall, due to its consistent inability to live up to its potential as a global economic powerhouse. That, of course, makes it ironic that such a befuddling country, currently wrestling with a myriad of ethical, moral and economic challenges, infused me with a healthy sense of self-worth and intellectual confidence that I could be anything that I wanted to be. …


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