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The world’s cuddliest fascist?


After years of searching it looks like I’ve finally found an English Premier League team to support – whoever is playing Sunderland. The appointment of Paolo Di Canio as their new manager is not as surprising as it is sad. It was inexorable that one, desperate for attention, top flight club or another would hire him eventually. While some have questioned why it has caused such a stir now, when he had already made a name for himself on the bench at Swindon, this is, of course, another level altogether.

For the hundreds of millions of people all over the world, for whom the English Premier League is beamed into their homes 9 months of the year, it defines their relationship with England. Not only was it inevitable that this appointment would be controversial, but Sunderland must surely have known exactly what they were doing. By making this move they would have fully expected and invited the controversy which makes their mock bewilderment at all the attention utterly laughable.

There should be no place for Paolo Di Canio or any of his ilk in high profile positions where they can be idolised by fans, by children, by anyone. To employ him is to encourage him, to back him, and to sanction the man and his views and the way he expresses them.

And before you ask, no, I don’t just hate Di Canio because he played for Lazio. I have shown in the past that I’m equally hard if not harder on Roma fans with fascist, homophobic and/or xenophobic tendencies.

Supporters of Di Canio and the man himself have suggested that his appointment to the Sunderland bench is solely about football. According to them we should all focus on the game and leave politics out of it. The old “don’t mix sport and politics” excuse – where have I heard that before? One of many ironic things about it is that Di Canio’s self-confessed personal hero – Benito Mussolini – explicitly went out of his way to mix sport and politics.

And we aren’t just talking about mixing sport and the local Labour Electorate Committee. Di Canio is a self-identifying unashamed, unreconstructed fascist. A supporter of an ideology responsible for mass murder, oppression and evil on a scale seldom paralleled in human history. Fascist dictators like Mussolini used sport, like the bread and circuses of ancient Rome, as their tool for wooing the masses and misdirecting the people’s gaze away from and at the same time drawing them into the more disturbing aspects of their ideology. That sport and politics don’t mix is one of the most dangerous myths there are. For more on this topic I encourage people to read this book.

Another irony is the small matter of Di Canio himself mixing sport and politics without too much hesitation…


The thing about Di Canio is, like a lot of fascists, he’s very charming. His exuberance and passion has already made a lot of people forget the outrage they felt when he was appointed just a couple of weeks ago. Here lies the real danger. The world’s cuddliest fascist he might be but aren’t they all? This is just how fascism started. The world’s two most famous fascist leaders, Hitler and Mussolini were also very charismatic. They marketed themselves as populist working men – much like Di Canio, who in his playing days modelled himself as ‘one of the fans’. When he wasn’t playing he could sometimes be found on the curva singing with the ultras from the cheap seats. A man of the people.

Supporters of Di Canio might also try to tell you that tagging him with the racism of Nazism and Hitler is a gross distortion of his politics and that Mussolini wasn’t as bad as Hitler. The problem with that is it’s exactly the kind of excuses that Italians make all the time for the fact that they have never recognised and atoned for their shameful history the way Germany did. Mussolini’s crimes against humanity are numerous, as this excellent summary by Giovanni Tiso can attest and whilst it is also often said that Italian fascism wasn’t racist like Germany’s was, the truth is Mussolini was describing the Slavic race as “inferior and barbaric” and advocating their genocide in 1920, well before Hitler rose to power. “Mussolini wasn’t as bad as Hitler” is like saying Freddy Krueger isn’t as bad as Hannibal Lecter and making excuses for Paolo Di Canio is as repugnant as supporting those regimes at the time.

Think I’m being melodramatic? Maybe I am but lots of ordinary people who led ordinary lives and who nobody would have ever thought would hurt a fly supported those regimes and carried out atrocities in their name. The only difference between people then and people today is the benefit of hindsight, which makes Di Canio seem even more unhinged.

The cuddlier they are, and the higher their public profile, the more dangerous they are. That Sunderland Association Football Club (I use their full name like my mother used to use mine when I’d done something truly rotten) thinks it’s ok to employ someone like this reflects very poorly on them indeed. There are more important things in life than avoiding relegation. Meeting the very low threshold for integrity that is not supporting people who support murderers to my mind is one of them and if any club I supported employed Paolo Di Canio I would be looking for another to support right that very second.

Categories: English/UK Football

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Enzo Giordani

A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.

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