As a fan of Lazio, Paolo Di Canio embraced fascism in his early teens. At fourteen, in Dublin, I turned to communism to help my escape from the embrace of the sectarian nationalism of the church of Rome. In Rome, Di Canio worshipped at the cathedral built by his hero, Benito Mussolini. The only thing we have in common is the beautiful game.
Anyone who has read Paddy Agnew's great book 'Forza Italia, The Fall and Rise of Italian Football' or paid a visit to the Museo del Calcio in Florence will spot the historical connection between some elements of football, and fascism in Italy.
In the museum the visitor will see an image of the 1938 Italy World Cup squad in fascist uniform posing for a 'family portrait' with Mussolini the inventor of the National Fascist Party.
The dictator's telegram to the team before the Final against Hungary carried the fascist era call to action 'Win or Die'. The Italians won the '38 Final leading to the Hungarian goalkeeper, Antal Azabo, to say famously “I may have let in four goals playing against Italy, but I saved their lives”.
Di Canio is someone who has never thought his way out of fascism, the connection between this political belief and football has merely served to give legitimacy to his views.
For example, strangely he claims that he is not a racist. In Mussolini's time this would be enough to have him kicked out of the fascist party, as the belief that there is more than one Human Race with superior and inferior beings was, and still is, a fundamental doctrine of fascism.
Gabriele Spinelli, my research colleague at Sport Against Racism Ireland and, like Di Canio, a former Lazio youth team player, is a passionate fan of the 'Padroni di Roma' since his own immersion in the club that is central to his community in a Rome working class suburb. Unlike Di Canio, his politics is of the left (we often share a verse or two of Bandiera Rossa) and he too is not surprised given the history of the man.
While Di Canio is still a 'non-party' fascist, I am still a 'non-party' communist and in many ways all we have left on the left are our songs and our banners. That is why I fall in line behind the Durham Miners in removing their banner from the Stadium of Light. As the old song says “The Durham Mine's a terrible place, they rub wet clay in the blacklegs face”. If the English Defence League or other English far- right groups try to adopt Di Canio as their hero, the old banner should be waved in their faces.
Unfortunately, there are more Di Canio's out there and it should be our job to try to educate them to this poisonous hate that can infect good things.
The father of English football, Walter Winterbottom believed that the football coach must also be a teacher. Inspired by this, SARI along with partners in Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Scotland, Spain and Italy has developed an anti-discrimination education through sport programme that will have the effect of steering sports practitioners away from boorish behaviour.
In the introduction to this 'Diversity In and Through Sport' manual there is a quote from John Arlott, a famous British cricket commentator and humanitarian, on sport and apartheid to the Cambridge Union in 1968, it is worth repeating:
“It is political commitment and practical belief that can make a man think that his opponent's views are so obnoxious that he will abstain from playing any game with him as a protest against what the other man believes. Any man's political commitment, if it is deep enough, is his very personal philosophy and it governs his whole way of life, it governs his belief and it certainly governs the people with whom he is prepared to mix”.
Ken Mc Cue
Sport Against Racism Ireland
The views in this blog are those of the author alone.