Hammer’s Hislop: My friendship with Di Canio is over.

Andy Newman


West Ham’s goalkeeper, Shaka Hislop says he feels betrayed and bitterly disappointed by the behaviour of his former team-mate Paolo Di Canio, who has been disciplined by the Italian football league for a second offence of making a fascist salute to Lazio fans earlier this month.


A Trinidad and Tobago international, Shaka Hislop, was awarded a special merit award by the Professional Footballers Association (PFA) in April 2005 for his continued and tireless role in campaigning against racism. Hackney born Hislop will be representing Trinidad and Tobago in the World Cup finals in Germany in 2006 and will play a Group B match against England.

The footballers’ union, the PFA has played a leading role in campaigning against racism, and along with the Commission for Racial Equality founded “Kick it Out” ten years ago. Speaking earlier this year, Gordon Taylor, Chief Executive of the PFA said: "Following the terrible racial abuse suffered by England's black players in Madrid last year anti- racism campaigning has gathered great momentum. The message from my members is clear, we won't accept racism and will continue to do what we can to ensure that in the future racism in football is only discussed in the past tense."

Hislop says his friendship with Di Canio is over. The Italian player who was forced to miss Societá Sportiva Lazio's midweek  Serie A  match at Lecce in punishment, labelled his suspension 'unjust' and insisted his salute 'has nothing to do with with any political ideologies'. Di Canio claims the salute is an ancient Roman tradition, and recently said: 'I will always salute that way because it gives me a sense of belonging to my people'  

Shaka Hislop says he does not accept former Hammer Di Canio's explanation, given the straight-armed salute now stands for something entirely different. 'I am very disappointed by it. Paolo never impressed me as that kind of person when he was here at West Ham,… We got on very well. He got on well with my wife and my kids and to see him making the headlines for his actions disappoints me greatly because of what those gestures mean and the wider effect of it. Paolo certainly was someone I considered a friend who I liked a lot, so I am very disappointed.'


Di Canio: "I'm a fascist not a racist"

 Certainly the political implications of Di Canio’s fascist gesture have not been lost on Italy’s far-right, and unofficial T-shirts celebrating the salute are already on sale outside the club’s stadium, according to Football Against Racism in Europe.  As Nicky Campbell pointed out in the Guardian: "When the Messina player Marco Zoro was reduced to tears recently by the Inter supporters' monkey chants the press beat a path to Di Canio for comment. He argued that there are all sorts of terrible insults in football but if it involves a black man everybody complains. In the light of protests from Jewish groups after his most recent stiff arm, our Paolo said with characteristic sensitivity: "If we are in the hands of the Jewish community it is the end."


The fascist salute is illegal under Italy's 1948 constitution, and Italy's right wing extremists are exploiting the Di Canio affair to attempt to rehabilitate fascist symbolism. Unfortunately this includes some people at the heart of government, Prime Minister Berlusconi has defended Di Canio by saying: "Fascism in Italy was never a criminal doctrine. There were the racial laws, horrible, but because one wanted to win the war with Hitler," Di Canio himself has used the defence:  "I am a fascist, not a racist". Recent years have seen a campaign in the (Berlusconi owned) Italian media to redefine the Nazi butchers of the Salò puppet regime as "bravi ragazzi", the good boys. There is even talk of giving them medals. President Carlo Azeglio  spoke in favour of rehabilitating the Salò Nazis in 2002.


The Salò Republic was set up in Northern Italy, after the fall of Mussolini in 1943. Hitler held Mussolini as a pawn and the most extreme Italian fascists regrouped and formed an army whose main task was to exterminate Italians who had joined the Resistance. They also actively contributed to the rounding up of Jews to be sent to concentration camps in Italy and Germany. The Salò brutalities reached their peak when the Brigate Nere were set up in 1944. On orders from the SS, the Salò soldiers were to kill ten Italian civilians for every German soldier killed. These are the people now being praised as confused "patriots"!


The bigger picture

There are two important issues for the Italian right. Firstly they wish to decouple the linkage between Italian fascism and German Nazism - this is the significance of them arguing that Italian fascism is not inherently associated with racism; or that racist policies were forced upon them by being subordinate military allies of Hitler. (The collusion of the Italian Salò Republic with the extermination of the Jews, and the mass slaughter of Ethiopians by Italian fascists after the 1935 invasion are thereby glossed over in a sentimental confusion about the fascist murderers being misguided "bravi ragazzi"). Secondly, it is necessary for them to rehabilitate the Salò Nazis, because the foreign minister, Gianfranco Fini, leader of the National Alliance, was for many years secretary of the Nazi-fascist Movimento Sociale Italiano associated with the Salò Republic fanatics. The post-fascist right are a key component of Berlusconi's coalition, and the right cannot rule in Italy without them.


The Di Canio affair has gone beyond football, but the responsibility for cutting out this cancer still lies with the footballing authorities. Di Canio's weasel words about fascism not being related to racism are proved a lie every time Lazio fans make monkey chants and throw bananas at black players. UEFA and FIFA must clamp down hard on Lazio, and the Italian Liga must be forced by international pressure to act.


Kick Racism Out of Football



Football Against Racism in Europe:



Previously on this story

Di Canio & Lazio’s Coliseum of Hate




Jan 2006

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