Italian soccer star Paolo Di Canio has caused a stir by giving what looks like a fascist salute after scoring a goal against his team’s arch-rival, Roma. Di Canio plays for Lazio, a Roman team that Mussolini supported and that continues to have fascist and racist elements (called “ultras”) among its fans. In fact, a number of European countries have at least one important soccer team with a political orientation similar to Lazio. That’s Europe for you.
Di Canio is an interesting case. He has a long record of misconduct, most of which occurred when he played in England and Scotland. He once pushed a referee to the ground (although the referee probably should have given himself a yellow card for the way he embellished his fall). However, Everton fans have a soft spot for Di Canio (as we do for so many miscreants). In the final minutes of a match against West Ham, Di Canio had the goal at his mercy after the Everton goal keeper had suffered a horrible injury. Di Canio elected to kick the ball out play, thus denying West Ham the victory.
Fascist politics don’t seem to be present in the English game. A notable exception occurred about five years ago when Australian goal keeper Mark Bosnich gave a fascist salute to the Tottenham Hotspur crowd. Spurs is a London team with a huge Jewish following.
My view of that incident was that Bosnich should be free to make whatever political gesture he wants without punishment by the league. A fascist salute in Italy seems more problematic, and I imagine that such gestures are outlawed there.
Di Canio denies that his gesture was political, but the denial is hard to take seriously. He was a Lazio “ultra” as a kid and had good things to say about Mussolini in his autobiography, according to Soccernet.
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