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Articles > Politics April, 08, 2013

Di Canio’s views don’t matter

Chris Jaffray
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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.

Photo by Ronnie Macdonald

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.

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  1. Kevin

    ‘Should we interrogate employees to double check their political views are acceptable, or will this only be done in high up positions?’

    Already happens. When a list of BNP members was leaked to the media a few years ago, a number of teachers and civil servants lost their jobs. This was justified: it is not appropriate to be part of an extremist group, to hold views such as these, in the sensitive positions that they hold. There are many reasons for this, not all of them obvious, but needless to say preferential treatment and discrimination based upon political views are incompatible with the role of a civil servant.

    In the case of Di Canio, a similar point can be made. He mentions Mussolini as someone he has a lot of respect for. Opportunist or not, Mussolini cultivated a cult of personality similar to many other fascist leaders in Europe and around the world. In fact, the cult of personality is something that many historians, media theorists and cultural philosophers believe is almost wrought into fascism, mainly because of its powerful aesthetic, designed to intimidate and conquer, rather than engage in a political dialogue with the people that it serves. Fascism wreaks this power with the media, and in Mussolini’s case there are stories about him posing for photographs for fascist propaganda in order to look like the strong man, however politically speaking, Italian fascism was rather a feeble affair.

    So for fascism, its looks over content. Football is becoming more and more dominated by aesthetics: for one, compare the amount of footballer’s today in adverts with thirty years ago, and the amount that they are now paid to be in them. Think of all the footballers with tattoos and haircuts, signs that a lot of effort has been put into an aesthetic. Perhaps then it becomes clear why some people might be a bit worried about putting someone with a fascist past so firmly in the public sport light. Furthermore, and let’s bring back Mussolini, the has traditionally been a strong affinity between sport and fascism: take a look at the Foro Mussolini, a sports complex designed to revive the ancient aesthetic, connect fascism to bodily excellence and connect it to the Roman empire; the glory days were back and it was Il Duce who was going to keep them coming.

    The connection between sport, physical excellence and the public gaze that athletes are in when they carry out that profession, and fascist politics has too much of a history for it to not be a big issue that a man who is quite open and proud about his fascism has become the manager of one of the biggest football clubs in the country. The comparison you draw to Ferguson and his socialism is redundant: fascist politics has been banned in the mainstream political sphere because it is populist and antagonistic, and ultimately proves to be a threat to the security of the political status quo. While you may agree or disagree with this, it’s entirely logical that a system would exclude that form of politic, and why people within that system would object to the exponents of such a politic being put into such a prominent public position.

  2. Tim Pfefferle

    This is some of the most ludicrous stuff I have read in recent memory. Apparently Mr. Jaffrey neither understands the politics of sports nor the politics of Italy. I will graciously overlook the fact that he compared Mussolini to Beppe Grillo in mind-bogglingly cumbersome fashion, which only goes to show the absolute and utter ignorance the author evidently intends to exhibit here. But, seriously, I fail to see how one could possibly miss the fact that Premier League managers have a rather big influence on society, and in particular locally. Do you not see how for some this is the weekend? And if the person who is in effect in charge of what is going on happens to be a fascist, it then becomes a problem. Because fascism is not a political opinion, and the fact that Mr. Jaffrey goes on to quote on J.S. MIll in this regard is just a disgrace. Then he tries to back up his argument by saying “look, most of the managers really don’t voice their opinions, so we should just cross our fingers and expect Di Canio to follow suit”. However, he then implies that if he were to do just the opposite, that would be welcome political commentary. So in fact, he wants to have his cake and eat it too. Di Canio, if indeed he is a fascist, is no less than the voice of the oppressed majority, a figure from outside the “mainstream”. I just have to ask: Are you serious? Because I just hope that you have to be kidding.