marcus rashford

Fascism And Racism: It’s No Monkey Business Because It Threatens Football

epa03647623 (FILE) A file picture dated 06 January 2005 shows Lazio forward Paolo di Canio using the fascist 'Roman salute' at the end of the Italian Serie A soccer match between SS Lazio and AS Roma at Olympic stadium in Rome, Italy. New AFC Sunderland manager Paolo di Canio defended himself on 01 April 2013 in the face of accusations that he is a fascist. The Italian, who was named as the English Premier League club's new manager late on 31 March 2013, has reportedly expressed fascist sympathies in the past. EPA/FILIPPO MONTEFORTE

A file picture dated 06 January 2005 shows Lazio forward Paolo di Canio using the fascist ‘Roman salute’ at the end of the Italian soccer match between SS Lazio and AS at Olympic stadium in Rome, Italy. New AFC Sunderland manager Paolo di Canio defended himself on 01 April 2013 in the face of accusations that he is a fascist. The Italian, who was named as the English Premier League club’s new manager late on 31 March 2013, has reportedly expressed fascist sympathies in the past.


LETS DELVE A LITTLE INTO THE PAST. BECAUSE FOOTBALL NEEDS SUCH CONVERSATIONS TO BE PART OF THE AGENDA TILL THE DEMONS OF RACIST CHANTS ARE ROOTED OUT

CIRCA 2005.

The resignation of senior British political figure David Miliband as non-executive director and vice-chairman of English soccer club Sunderland A.F.C. – in protest at Paolo Di Canio’s appointment as the Premier League club’s new manager – has engulfed Di Canio in a controversy that he and his new employers are struggling to contain.

The storm surrounds events back in 2005. While playing for Rome’s Lazio club, Di Canio twice hailed the team’s fans with a Nazi salute. Then, he defended his actions by claiming to be a “fascist, not a racist”. To the puzzlement of Di Canio, and Sunderland, these events are the subject of renewed public scrutiny, despite the fact that he was disciplined for them eight years ago.

Paolo Di Canio was pictured in 2005 making a raised-arm salute to a group of supporters during his time at Lazio (FILE)

Paolo Di Canio was pictured in 2005 making a raised-arm salute to a group of supporters during his time at Lazio (FILE)


In a tetchy press conference stand-off with reporters last night, Di Canio repeated that he is not a racist. He also insisted that he is not a political person. When reporters would not leave the fascism issue be, rattled PR staff ended proceedings. Two questions follow: why are people so upset now, and what would another renunciation achieve?

New Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio holds up a ball during his unveiling at the Academy of light training facility in Sunderland, Britain 02 April 2013. Di Canio defended himself 01 April 2013 in the face of accusations that he is a fascist. The Italian, who was named as the club's new manager late on 31 March 2013, has reportedly expressed fascist sympathies in the past. (FILE)

New Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio holds up a ball during his unveiling at the Academy of light training facility in Sunderland, Britain 02 April 2013. Di Canio defended himself 01 April 2013 in the face of accusations that he is a fascist. The Italian, who was named as the club’s new manager late on 31 March 2013, has reportedly expressed fascist sympathies in the past. (FILE) 


Folks are upset because – unlike Di Canio – many soccer supporters are political people. Yesterday, the Durham Miners Association asked for its banner to be removed from Sunderland’s stadium. Like Miliband, the organisation stated its love of the club is outweighed by its historic commitment to fight fascism wherever it arises.

Elsewhere, Di Canio stirs unease at a lack of progress on racism in soccer. Football Against Racism in Europe’s Piara Power has called on Di Canio to clarify his views. Power thinks Di Canio’s statements so far aren’t enough, given known affinities between fascism and racism: “fascist”, Power said, “is a political label that comes across with all sorts of dangerous ideas and ideals and that is the concern for us”.

Monkey chants by home fans halt football match, Lazio fined £38,000 after Napoli clash suspended

Lazio fined £38,000 after Napoli clash suspended over alleged racist chanting by home fans. Reports from the game say monkey chants were aimed at Napoli centre-half Kalidou Koulibaly during the second period.


Di Canio’s past matters because of an ominous present. Premier League stars Luiz Suarez and have been accused of racial vilification in recent seasons, while last week Rio Ferdinand was the subject of abusive chanting from fans over the Terry case (which involved his brother, Anton). Ferdinand tweeted “racism is not banter, and from your own fans. WOW”.

It was alleged that John Terry had insulted Anton Ferdinand in a Premier League match between Chelsea and QPR, describing him as "black" and using extreme sexual swear words. The Ex-England captain was eventually cleared of racially abusing fellow footballer Ferdinand.

It was alleged that John Terry had insulted Anton Ferdinand in a Premier League match between and QPR, describing him as “black” and using extreme sexual swear words. The Ex-England captain was eventually cleared of racially abusing fellow footballer Ferdinand.

Ferdinand isn’t the only worried star. Last month, ’s Ghanaian-born Kevin-Prince Boateng addressed the UN on the need to take a tougher stand on racial abuse in soccer. Boateng could talk the talk because he walked the walk: he left the pitch during a game in January in protest at racist chanting from the crowd.

AC Milan's Kevin-Prince Boateng leads team off pitch in protest at racist chanting in friendly match with Pro Patria Boateng became the first player to cause a game to be abandoned because of racist abuse after his team-mates followed him off the pitch in protest at his treatment by opposition fans.

AC Milan’s Kevin-Prince Boateng leads team off pitch in protest at racist chanting in friendly match with Pro Patria. Boateng became the first player to cause a game to be abandoned because of racist abuse after his team-mates followed him off the pitch in protest at his treatment by opposition fans. 


Many supporters share these concerns. Last month, the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies released results from a survey of 2500 British soccer fans on their experiences with racism. The survey, by Jamie Cleland and Ellis Cashmore, found that half of the sample still encountered it during matches.

The study also found disgruntlement at a lack of effective official action against racist incidents, and a fear that social media is exacerbating things: abuse can now be delivered right into players’ hands.

Paolo Di Canio is unveiled as the man charged to save Sunderland from relegation.

Paolo Di Canio is unveiled as the man charged to save Sunderland from relegation. The former Lazio striker has previously admitted to having fascist leanings, telling Italian news agency ANSA in 2005: “I am a fascist, not a racist.”


That’s why Di Canio is being asked about 2005 again. In light of recent events, letting his appointment proceed without querying past political statements attributed to him smacks of the indifference that has led the game to where it is.

But the operative word here is indifference. Di Canio’s actual beliefs might be less important than they first appear, because avowed, dyed-in-the-wool racists aren’t the only challenge.

Asked about his “Roman” salute, Di Canio cast the gesture as a tribute to fellow Lazio fans in whose ranks he once stood. Political overtones were incidental to the particular meaning of that act delivered by one player to a certain set of people at the stadium.

This sort of argument is typical of the “casual racism” defence that Cleland and Cashmore also found among their respondents. Condemnatory as fans were about racism in principle, many of the sample – especially those who were “white, male and under 29” – defended “occasional outbursts” as inevitable, given that racism is a societal issue. In other words, casual racism isn’t the real thing. By the same logic, an off-the-cuff Nazi salute doesn’t necessarily signify considered political convictions.

According to the survey, it’s the culture that tolerates casual racism that intimidates those minded to confront racists in action. Often, the idiot doing the “monkey chant” is less imposing than other fans and officials who just want to keep a lid on things, and regulatory bodies who’d rather have players carry on, regardless.

In the end, no-one really turns a hair until someone like Kevin-Prince Boateng says “enough” and leaves the pitch. Actions like that threaten to derail soccer’s status as a lucrative global media spectacle. That does more than another press conference.

Until racism substantially threatens soccer showbiz, change will be slow.

(THE AUTHOR, ANDY RUDDOCK, IS A SENIOR LECTURER, RESEARCH UNIT IN MEDIA STUDIES, MONASH UNIVERSITY. THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE CONVERSATION.)

You don't have permission to register