So, the freshly appointed Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio has renounced his fascism. In spite of being pretty firmly opposed to the views Di Canio has just distanced himself from, I found myself troubled by this. I shared these thoughts with my Dad, and he encouraged me to share them more widely.
It’s almost impossible, it seems, to have a rational debate about this. Even the normally voluble biographer of Di Canio, Garbriele Marcotti, became momentarily tongue-tied and evasive when discussing this topic. Football in Britain is gripped by a narrative of fighting racism, of “zero tolerance” (whatever that means) and of taking a stand. This has been a difficult path to tread at times and some of those involved are to be congratulated.
But Di Canio is a fascist, not necessarily a racist. In a country like Britain with little history of extremist politics, it seems hard for people to understand the difference. I would like to see Di Canio’s disregard for democracy challenged, not his non-existent racism.
And then, we should remember that Di Canio comes from a country where the main opposition parties have been communists for much of his lifetime, a country which has consistently had weak democratic governments since the end of fascism, and which has frequently elected an obvious crook, and which only became a nation state in the mid 19th century. His perspective becomes more understandable, even if objectionable.
People in Britain see fascism through the lens of the Second World War and are seemingly hard-pressed to distinguish it from Nazism. But fascism’s origins are in ancient Rome, the fasces symbolising the power of a unified state. I don’t share Di Canio’s (now renounced) politics. I believe very firmly in some other things, such as empathy, compassion, and diversity – something else we can find inspiration for in classical antiquity:
I am a human being, I consider nothing that is human alien to me.