Lazio's Paolo di Canio has defended making a raised arm salute at the end of last weekend's 2-1 defeat at Livorno. The incident happened as the controversial 37-year-old striker walked off after being substituted under the grandstands containing Lazio fans.
It is not the first time Di Canio has made the raised arm gesture. He was fined €10,000 for doing the same at the end of Lazio's win over arch-rivals Roma in January 2005.
This latest incident has occurred at a very sensitive time in Italian football, happening just days after the abuse suffered by Marc Zoro caused an international debate on the levels of racism in Italian football.
Previously, Di Canio has publicly declared his admiration for fascism – he even has a “Dux” tattoo in recognition of Mussolini. He explained his controversial actions on Italian radio station Radio Spazio Aperto,
“I saluted my people with what for me is a sign of belonging to a group that holds true values, values of civility against the standardisation that this society imposes upon us. I'm proud to be able to count on such people and I will continue to salute them in this way.”
Italy's Football League has launched an inquiry into this latest incident. Di Canio expects his club to defend him,
“I expect a robust defence from my club and this time I'm not going to settle for anything less. I expect my president to defend me, just like presidents do in other clubs, otherwise I'm going to be really pissed off.”
However, the chances of a split between Lazio and its most famous player are growing because Lazio appeared to distance themselves from the gesture.
“Lazio repudiates any kind of racism or politicisation of football, both on the pitch and off it, and invites its shareholders and its fans to react against any attempt to pollute the language of sport,” it said on its website.
Although Di Canio may like to explain his salute away, its fascist connotations have caused particular outrage amongst Jewish groups in Italy. The president of the Italian Maccabi Federation, Vittorio Pavoncello, called on Lazio and Italian soccer authorities to take action.
Di Canio brushed their protests aside,
“If we are in the hand of the Jewish community it's the end. If action is taken because one community is up in arms it could be dangerous.”