From the Field

On the Protests Against Sunderland FC & Fascist Paolo Di Canio: a Statement of Support

Aaron Patrick Flanagan • Apr 30, 2013

Paolo Di Canio (center) raising a fascist salute with other fascist supporters of Lazio

England’s top-flight soccer division, the English Premier League is the most watched sports league in the world. On its website, it boasts:

“The Premier League is broadcast in 212 territories around the world, working with 80 different broadcasters. The TV audience for Premier League games is 4.7bn, and the number of homes reached last season increased 11 per cent to 643m.”

As with any major sports league, marquee players and managers become the faces of clubs, both capable of heaping either glory or disgrace on these revenue-generating behemoths.

Sadly, in the eyes of many across the world, Sunderland AFC, which currently sits 15th in the EPL, has plunged itself into disgrace with the hiring of a self-professed fascist, Paolo Di Canio, as its manager. In response, groups in England like HOPE not hate (Hnh) and the Durham Miners Association (DMA) are uniting to highlight why individuals like Di Canio should be denied such a culturally salient stage. Their unity is just one example of how working people can join together, and begin organizing to do just that.

The DMA is so revered that every year 100,000 people attend the Durham Miner’s Gala and the group continues to work for the rights and for the compensation of miners who have long suffered work-related illnesses. In an email, Graeme Atkinson, Hnh’s European Editor, writes that “we [Hnh & DMA] are working closely together preparing a number of initiatives aimed at keeping fascists out of former mining communities.”

Atkinson was keen to mention that this was not the first mutual endeavor between the groups: “Hnh has had an organized connection with the DMA since the outbreak of the Spanish miners’ strike in June 2012 when Hnh activists, together with ex-miners, formed the Spanish Miners Solidarity Committee (SMSC) to assist the Spanish miners’ fight. The DMA immediately recognised the SMSC – already recognised by the miners’ unions in Spain – and fully supported our campaign. In a fundraising effort lasting 6 weeks, the SMSC collected £27,500/$42,000 to help the Spanish miners sustain their struggle.”

He continues, explaining that after Di Canio’s hiring, “it was natural that Hnh and the DMA would combine their efforts in expressing their opposition to this disgraceful appointment.”

And disgraceful it is, as Di Canio’s history of fascist controversies is extensive:

  • Di Canio has a large tattoo on his back honoring Mussolini, and has described him as “basically a very principled, ethical individual” who was “deeply misunderstood.”
  • An “Irriducibili” banner: “Auschwitz, your homeland, the ovens your homes.”

    The “Irriducibili Lazio” are one of the most notoriously violent hooligan gangs in Europe, widely disdained for the gang’s open displays of racism and virulent antisemitism in the forms of banners and chants. Its impact on Di Canio’s life cannot be diminished. He was a member as a teenager, and throughout his adult life as a player he has continually bragged about his friendships with the gang’s leaders, often celebrating with or before them in stadiums. At an MTV awards bash in Rome 2004, Di Canio strutted out on stage wearing an “Irriducibili Lazio” t-shirt.

  • As Hnh also reports, in response to outrage from Jewish organizations about a fascist salute he gave during a match in Livorno, Di Canio coolly remarked, “If we are in the hands of the Jewish community, it’s the end.”

On April 3rd, a prepared statement from Sunderland FC was released, quoting Di Canio as claiming, “I do not support the ideology of fascism. I respect everyone. I am a football man.” But, as Nick Lowles, also of Hnh, reminds us, “Many of Rome’s fascist politicians began their political life on Lazio’s terraces.” The above in mind, when Di Canio’s long history with the “Irriducibili” is recognized alongside his own history of fascist salutes during soccer matches, distinguishing Di Canio the supposed “football man” from Di Canio the ardent fascist becomes impossible for all-save his apologists.

And without question, his actions and associations prove his denials to be nothing but lies woefully disguised as “public relations.” In line with Atkinson’s comments above, the Durham Miner’s Association’s public statement is forthright: “The appointment of Di Canio is a disgrace and a betrayal of all who fought and died in the fight against fascism.”

The Center for New Community agrees, and wishes to extend this as a statement of solidarity and support for the DMA and HOPE not hate, and others, in their work to hold Sunderland FC’s higher-ups accountable for the hiring of this fascist. As Atikinson writes in the conclusion of his email:

“[Di Canio’s hiring] tramples on everything Sunderland AFC is supposed to stand for: a co-operative, socially inclusive ethos based on the fact that the club has for years been sustained by the  solidarity-driven mining communities of County Durham. His appointment can only encourage the activities of fascists who want to use the present economic and social crisis to introduce their poisonous, disruptive and destructive ideas into our communities and set working people against each other.”

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