Struggling English Premier League club Sunderland hired Paolo di Canio as manager last night, setting off a fresh round of questions about his fascist beliefs.
Di Canio played all over Europe in the 90s and early-00s, and earned a reputation for his pro-Benito Mussolini statements and his on-field fascist arm gestures.
In 2005 he was disciplined by FIFA for repeatedly making the “roman salute” (pictured) — extending his right arm to the crowd — while playing for the notoriously right-wing Italian club Lazio. A lifetime ban was even suggested, according to the Telegraph.
After the controversy, di Canio told the Italian paper ANSA, “I am a fascist, not a racist.”
He added (via the Telegraph):
“The salute is aimed at my people. With the straight arm I don’t want to incite violence and certainly not racial hatred.”
According to the Telegraph, di Canio has a tattoo of Mussolini’s nickname on his arm. In his autobiography, he described the fascist leader as “deeply misunderstood.”
Sunderland vice-chairman David Miliband immediately resigned after the hire was announced, and now there are calls for di Canio to clarify his beliefs.
Di Canio has experience in England. He played for Sheffield and West Ham, and coached lower-league Swindon Town from 2011-13. But now that he’s on one of the biggest stages in world soccer, the outrage over his professed beliefs has resurfaced.
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