Fascism and European football


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First aired on The Current (10/04/13)

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Paolo di Canio is a self-described fascist and former Italian professional soccer player, and his recent hiring as the manager of Sunderland, a team in the English Premier League, has sparked a storm of controversy. The Current spoke to Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Mihir Bose, author of Game Changer: How the English Premier League Came to Dominate the World, and sociologist Alberto Testa, co-author (with Gary Armstrong) of Football, Fascism and Fandom: The UltraS of Italian Football, about the tendentious situation.

Foxman, who is calling for di Canio's dismissal, spoke with The Current from New York City. He told host Anna Maria Tremonti that di Canio should be fired because of the influence that sports has, especially on young people. "Young people look up to athletes, to sports figures," he said." And an individual who proclaims that he's a fascist, who engages in Mussolini's fascist salute, is not a model that I think any sports outfit should have as part of its institution."

Di Canio has said that although he's a fascist, he's not a racist. To Foxman, it's impossible to make that distinction. "Not every racist is a fascist, but every fascist is a racist," he said. "Fascism in Italy is another version of Nazism, and the man who brought fascism to Italy was a man who helped bring...anti-Semitic laws that ended in Italian Jews being sent to Auschwitz."

Foxman believes that di Canio's appointment is particularly troubling because racism and bigotry are major problems in European soccer. "It's hate-filled. There's violence based on ethnic hate," he said.

Foxman also believes that di Canio's appointment hurts the sport as a whole because it undermines positive values like sportsmanship, fair play and respect, which we associate with athletics. To ignore what di Canio stands for, Foxman said, shows "a cynicism and an insensitivity to the subject of racism."

Mihir Bose, who spoke with The Current from London, England, contends that di Canio shouldn't be let go because of his politics. "I've met Paolo di Canio, questioned him about his Mussolini beliefs and his fascism beliefs," he said. "He thought Mussolini had done some good things, but he had also gone wrong." Bose pointed out that di Canio's views "reflect his upbringing in the working class area of Rome" and in fact are shared by many Italians.

"If he brings those views into his job, then of course that would be totally unacceptable," Bose said. "There's no evidence he's done that. So if you're going to say because a man has [certain] political views, he can't have a job, then I think we're going down a very, very slippery road."

Bose pointed out that di Canio has managed Swindon, a club that competes in a lower division, without attracting controversy. He also disputes the notion that soccer players or managers should be viewed as role models. "They can be used as a symbol for athletic activity...but to make them role models is I think the wrong thing to do."

Alberto Testa, who also spoke to The Current from London, commented that in Italy, soccer "reflects the dynamics of Italian society." The terraces [concrete steps where spectators stand] have traditionally been "a place you can speak freely, complain about Italian politics and about Italian parties." But he also acknowledged that this can give rise to the expression of "extreme ideologies."

Testa also pointed out that historically, "Italian football has been political since the beginning," adding that Mussolini had been a great fan of Lazio, and quite a lot of his entourage were involved in the club.

Testa cautioned that fascism and Nazism aren't the same thing. Both are "devastating for society, but they are different," he said. Fascism is based on core beliefs of "anti-liberalism, anti-Communism, chauvinism, nationalism." Nazism adopted these principles, but "added the racial element" of anti-Semitism and a belief in "the supremacy of the Aryan race."

Testa added that fascism in Italy is different from in Britain, and in fact is part of the language and icons of the political left as well as the political right. "I believe that Paolo di Canio can be fascist but not a racist, at least in Italy," he said.

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