I used to dislike Sunderland on the very simple grounds that one of their players injured one of ours (Diaby). However, what little regard I may have had for them has been flushed like so much raw sewage. The hiring of Paolo Di Canio is ridiculous. He might be a distinguished player and manager, but until he actually, directly disavows his connections to and support for fascism, he’s little more than a fascist and should have no place in or around football, if my two cents are worth anything. If I was a Sunderland fan, I’d be outraged enough to put up my various jerseys and whatnot on eBay and switch to a club with a little more sense. If I was a Sunderland player, I’d refuse to play for Di Canio. However, I’m neither of these things, so I guess I’ll have to register my disgust in this little corner of the universe. It’s one thing to prefer your own kind—I’m from Irish stock, two generations removed, and enjoy meeting other Irish people, but I’m not about to go around swearing at or deriding other nations, cultures, or peoples.
Di Canio’s non-apology at the Sunderland website is self-serving and pathetic. He focuses on his desire to speak only of football. Sorry. That’s not how it works. If you’ve made the Roman Salute often enough to be photographed and fined, and if you’ve published an autobiography in which you defend and admire Mussolini, and if you say out loud that you are a fascist, you can not set the terms for the discussion. Until Di Canio actually says, out loud, that he is no longer a fascist, he’s still a fascist. A press release on a website, whether he composed and posted it himself, doesn’t cut the mustard. He says he does “not support the ideology of fascism”, which is progress, but not enough. Fascism is little more than racism on steroids, a systematic and government-sponsored attempt to promote the rights and interests of one ethnic group over all others. In its more extreme forms, whether it was Italy, Germany, and Japan in the mid-20th century, Russian pogroms in the early 20th century, or any of the various ethnocides and genocides of the last twenty years, millions have died. For Di Canio to have associated himself with it publicly requires much more than a mealy-mouthed “I do not support the ideology of racism”.
Football has struggled quite enough with racism already. By hiring Di Canio, Sunderland has given racism an official sanction to thrive. Fans and even players are going to make racist claims, and they’re going to be punished as a result. Whether those punishments go far enough is another matter that, unfortunately, will now have to wait even longer for discussion while we wrestle with this nonsense. Di Canio, an unrepentant fascist, now manages a club in one of the world’s most prestigious leagues. Yes, it’s Sunderland, a point above relegation, but he’ll now appear in the news each week. I can all but guarantee that when Di Canio brings Sunderland to, say, White Hart Lane, fur will fly. Circle May 19. Spurs’ connection to the Jewish community makes it a bit dicey for Di Canio, to put it mildly. Our own Emmanuel Frimpong got into some hot water when he clumsily tweeted about Spurs fans last summer, and he had the excuse of responding to someone who prayed that he’d break an arm and a leg. And it’s not that the Jewish community is the only one that should be offended. At this point, it’s anyone who’s not Italian who should be angry at Sunderland and Di Canio. Heck, even Italians should be angry.
I’m sure that Di Canio has mellowed and maybe even wisened with age, but he has not “categorically denied” that he is fascist, as ESPN puts it. Di Canio’s statement is about ten sentences long (the grammarian in me struggled to count accurately due to comma splices and so on. Hey, I am an English teacher). Only one of them directly addresses the issue of fascism. For his statement to be categorical, he would have to whine less about how others’ accusations have hurt him and apologize more about how his statements and views have hurt others.
Frankly, I hope Sunderland loses all of its remaining games, and each goal scored against them leads to a donation to various anti-fascist organizations in Italy.