By John Millington
The media storm whipped up over Di Canio’s appointment as Sunderland manager has been far reaching.
From David Miliband, to mainstream anti-racist activists and militant trade union groups; all have taken steps to criticise and in some cases take symbolic action to show their disdain for his appointment.
Even the Daily Star carried a front page questioning the appointment, showcasing Di Canio’s Nazi salute whilst playing in Italy 7 years ago.
But instead of universal outrage across the press, which one might expect considering not so long ago Britain along with her allies fought a world war against fascism in Europe, right wing commentators have ended up turning the story into an attack on the “left,” criticising Di Canio’s detractors.
LBC’s Iain Dale highlighted the so-called hypocrisy of the “liberal left” emphasing the fact that no one cared about Di Canio while he was Swindon Manager whilst treading a dangerous path of attempting to distinguish National Socialism from fascism.
He concludes by suggesting he would not boycott a team or complain if “a devoutly left wing socialist” or “Chinese Communist” became a manager of a premiership footballer.
Jonathan Liew in the Telegraph suggests our obsession with the Di Canio story is particularly British “middle class” pre-occupation and that reminders of the crimes of fascism in the Guardian were all designed to simply make us all feel better, serving no wider practical purpose.
The question that has to be asked here is: When did it become taboo to not like fascists, to criticise them, to remind ourselves of the horrors of the worst economic and political system ever devised?
If people were a bit late coming forward to have a pot shot at Di Canio, does that make their condemnation any less worthwhile?
The fact that there wasn’t much coverage of the GMB, Britain’s 3rd largest union, withdrawing their sponsorship of Swindon when Di Canio was manager due to his fascist sympathies, is the fault of major newspapers not anti fascist commentators.
Durham Miners Association leader Davey Hopper whose group has asked for their banner at Sunderland to be returned in protest at Di Canio’s appointment, was a deep pit miner for 27 years.
I have known and interviewed Davey several times over the last 4 years and he would be insulted to be labelled “middle class” or to have his association’s decision questioned on the basis of what it “hopes to achieve.”
As difficult as it might be for Liew, Dale and others to understand, as I am sure they have never covered a National Union of Mineworkers AGM before, the decision by DMA is based on principle, a principle that dates back to before Hitler and his partner in crime, Italian fascist leader Mussolini.
Opposing fascism whether by pen or sword is something that goes back to brigades and the Spanish civil war when thousands of working class people volunteered to go over to fight fascist dictator Franco and defend the Republic.
This was something war veterans who fought in the Second World War for Britain can relate to and why several have come out vigorously opposed to Di Canio’s appointment.
To not withdraw the Durham Miners banner from Sunderland would have been akin to spitting in the face of all those who have fought and died fighting fascism.
Hopper does fit the description of Dale’s “devout left wing socialist” and the kind of society Davey wants, one of peace, equality and workers rights, is the antithesis to fascist ideology.
As for the defence Di Canio has “several best friends who are black” – how many times have we heard that one from somebody after they have made a racist comment?
Racism is political and therefore contradictory.
The BNP and English Defence League all have black members – does this mean that both organisations are any less racist in their policies?
To use the other argument, that sport and politics should be kept separate, is to ignore the platform that professional sport gives individuals and their viewpoints.
Similar arguments have been used to allow fascist countries or individuals to benefit from such regimes.
One need only look at World Cup in Italy in 1934, the Nazi Olympics in 1936, the open racism of the IOC towards militant black American sprinters in the 60′s, the breaking of sanctions on Apartheid South Africa by England Cricketers, to see how sport and politics are inseparable.
The Premiership could learn a thing or two from the Greek footballing authorities who recently banned one of their up and coming stars Giorgos Katidis from representing the national team due to his Nazi salute at the end of a league game last month.
The Di Canio incident has underlined the need to step up campaigning against fascism, whether by uncovering extremists in the world of sport or entertainment as well as far right political movements.
To stand still or to ignore the seeds of fascism it is to fall into the trap of appeasement.
Need we be reminded of the concentration camp survivor Pastor Niemoller’s chilling quote about ignoring fascism:
“When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.”