The appointment of a fascist and vocal supporter of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini as head coach of Sunderland football club damages the image of the club and undermines efforts to kick out racism in football.
Racism is a real problem in football. Black players are racially abused by delusional fans in the stands and in some cases by fellow players. There are efforts to nip racism in football in the bud and kick racism out of the game by way of fines and suspensions levied on clubs and individuals found guilty of racial abuse. Some brave footballers have even taken the struggle against racism further by walking off or threatening to walk off the pitch in an event where they face abuse - a move I support.
Instead of developing campaigns against growing racism and political extremism in football, Sunderland Association Football Club decided to hire a fascist as head coach. Paolo Di Canio, 44, was appointed coach of Sunderland on a two-and-a-half-year contract. The Italian is a known fascist and supporter of Benito Mussolini, a dictator and ally of Adolf Hitler.
Fascism propagates, amongst other things, "superiority" of one race over others. In Fascist Italy, the so-called Manifesto of Race that was published in 1938 under the leadership of Mussolini targeted races that were deemed "inferior". Marriages between Jews and Italians were banned.
Di Canio praised Mussolini in his autobiography as a "very principled individual". He also wrote that he is "fascinated" by Mussolini.
In 2005, the Italian coach told an Italian news agency: "I am a fascist, not a racist". [Source]
Sides of the same coin
Benito Mussolini who ruled Italy as a dictator from 1930 to 1943 was one of the founders of Fascism. The dictator once said Italy was right to pursue an imperialist policy in Africa because all black people were "inferior" to white people. [Source]
This is racist. It is therefore wrong for Di Canio to suggest that a fascist is not a racist.
In a speech in Pula, Croatia on 20 September 1920, Mussolini again expressed a racist fascist belief when he called Slavics "inferior and barbarian". He said, "we can easily sacrifice 500,000 barbaric Slavs for 50,000 Italians." This expression, in my view was a racist and genocidal expression by the fascist leader.
In my opinion, fascism and racism are sides of the same coin. Racism is part of the twisted ideology that Di Canio pays allegiance to.
Paolo Di Canio's support for fascism and fascination with its leader goes beyond verbal expressions. He has DVX (Latin appellation for Benito Mussolini) tattooed on his right arm [Source] and was pictured in 2005 making a Hitler salute to a group of supporters of Italian Lazio football club. He was suspended and fined, but it was not the first or last time he made the Hitler salute. [Source]
Like many opponents of racism and fascism, I am appalled by the appointment of Paolo Di Canio as head coach of Sunderland. Fascism, like Nazism, is a deadly ideology that caused untold suffering and claimed thousands lives across continents, including Africa. Mussolini's military committed massacres and used chemical weapons in Ethiopia and Libya.
I welcome David Miliband's resignation as a result of the appointment and the decision of war veterans to boycott Sunderland. The appointment is an insult to victims of Fascism, members of their families and all those who were affected by the twisted ideology.
People "fascinated" by tyranny and a racist ideology should not be appointed to leadership positions in sports, politics or civil society.
*Photo of Paolo Di Canio doing "Roma salute" in 2005: TheNational.
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