Since his appointment as Sunderland Manager Paolo Di Canio has been in the middle of a media furore surrounding his political views. This is both problematic and inconsistent. Firstly, why does it matter all of a sudden? The departure of David Miliband at the club should not be viewed as important given he was leaving for New York anyway, and his role at Sunderland was probably equally unimportant to him as his role as an MP. His refusal to serve in cabinet, contribute to debates on budget deficits or welfare reform, or even intervene in Mali as a former foreign secretary who stood by Labour’s decision to go to war in Iraq, showed his commitment to South Shields was limited. His departure from Sunderland Football Club too is largely irrelevant.
Why then do Di Canio’s views matter now? He managed Swindon before and played for West Ham in the Premier League. One of his goals was voted the best in Premier League history. Are people who hold fascist views to be allowed to play for Premier League clubs, but not to manage them? Are they also permitted to manage leagues lower down than the Premier League, but not the Premier League itself? Were he a recent arrival from abroad, spouting fascist political views, then perhaps the recent commotion would be understandable, but given he has appeared elsewhere in English football and been a fan favourite, it’s strange for it to suddenly become an issue worthy of concern.
The second problem is that Di Canio reasons for moving to Sunderland were innocuous. He did not intend to spout fascist political beliefs in his new role as a Premier League manager. Being a Premier League manager is no serious platform for a proponent of fascist ideology. Of all Premier League managers only Sir Alex Ferguson’s political views are widely acknowledged. His donations to the Labour Party are well known and he was heavily involved with Tony Blair’s campaign in 1997. Other than that, some Scottish figures involved in English clubs as players or manager are known for their opposition to Scottish independence. This includes Dalglish and Souness as well as Ferguson, but other than this none have widely known political views. So any notion that allowing a fascist a Premier League managerial position is akin to giving them a legitimate platform for political comment is ludicrous. This, in addition to the fact Di Canio did not wish to express his views on this non-existent platform, further demonstrates how absurd the media frenzy surrounding this is.
Also, even if he were a fascist (which is ambiguous) and wished to express his point of view, we should still not seek to ban him from management or interrogate him. Mill wrote:
‘If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.’
Although Di Canio’s views probably bear no impact on British politics, they probably have something to contribute on the nature of Italian politics. Mussolini, after all, was no Hitler. He was a mere opportunist who did not believe much of what he said. He existed on the myth of efficiency, and an idolisation of him may well reflect the stagnant nature of Italian politics, which after all gave the anti-politics figure of Beppe Grillo a quarter of its vote in recent elections. To silence Di Canio, even if he did want to express his views, would be to ignore anxieties and frustrations with the current political system which have led to him holding these views. By the same token, banning a well known supporter of the British National Party would be to ignore reasons behind the support, such as high levels of unemployment in northern towns and problems of integration between different cultures. To silence views which people in the political mainstream deem ‘unacceptable’ is to deflect criticism away from that very mainstream’s failings.
Finally, this situation, and any demands for Di Canio to be removed as a Premier League Manager, could set a nasty precedent. Should we interrogate employees to double check their political views are acceptable, or will this only be done in high up positions? Secondly, people in extremist positions love to portray themselves as the repressed voice of the nation, speaking to people’s concerns where the political mainstream don’t, and by interrogating Di Canio we only encourage this further.