• Mon
  • Apr 21, 2014
  • Updated: 10:59pm
Column
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 April, 2013, 5:24am

Two fascists: one fighting for his young career, the other capping his at Sunderland

It's hard to reconcile the vastly different treatment meted out to Giorgos Katidis and Paolo di Canio over their outbursts

BIO

Peter Simpson is a China-UK based journalist and the SCMP’s former Beijing 2008 Olympics news editor. He has covered major international news and sporting events, most recently the London 2012 Olympics and Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine. Peter is a Premier League season ticket holder at newly promoted Southampton FC.
 

Greek footballer Giorgos Katidis and Sunderland's new manager, Paolo di Canio, have much in common. Both hail from the sunny shores of the Mediterranean, both are talented footballers and both are in the dock for giving fascist salutes to fans.

What separates them is Katidis is fighting for his fledgling career while Di Canio is celebrating his career-topping appointment as manager of an EPL club.

Katidis, an U21 Greek national player, has been apologising profusely for his offending gesture which he made after scoring his side's winning goal against Veria last month. The 20-year-old was banned from all levels of international football for life and sin-binned by his club, AEK Athens, for the rest of the season with his long-term future to be decided in the summer.

At a disciplinary hearing last week Katidis pleaded he was "not a Nazi or fascist" and called his act "totally unacceptable".

"I feel terrible for those I upset with the stupidity of my act," he said. "I also understand fully the reasons for the banning decision made by the Greek Football Federation to which I owe a huge apology as it has helped me to get where I am in the professional game."

The midfielder, who had a trial at Everton last year, claimed he "did not know what I was doing". If true, he is paying a high price for his offensive ignorance.

The photo of Katidis giving his insulting gesture and his subsequent disciplinary hearing took place almost undetected by football's radar - why give excessive PR oxygen to a moronic young footballer?

Contrast, however, his low-profile saga with that of Sunderland's "hand-grenade management" hiring of the infamously explosive Italian Di Canio, who replaced sacked Martin O'Neill last weekend.

It quickly turned into a bizarre, incongruous and divisive ideological battle field played out in the international media, spilling from the back pages to the front.

The former Lazio player's disturbing fascist salute, made to his Ultras faithful while playing for Lazio in the Stadio Olympico in 2005, and his much-chronicled public support of fascism are the least savoury of his multiple behavioural challenges - he has shoved a referee to the ground, engages in wild celebrations and remonstrations, makes bizarre substitutions and deploys an iron-fisted dictatorial but successful managerial style.

The former West Ham player tip-toed into management in 2011 at then newly relegated League Two side Swindon.

His controversial politics were well known, yet other than a principled stand by the general workers union, the GMB, which withdrew its sponsorship from the club, his appointment drew little fuss.

Instead, he was cheered for steering Swindon to a swift return to League One. But his tenure ended as many believed it would - in a hot-headed resignation in February just as his team were vying for a Championship play-off place.

Until he stormed out of the club after a bust-up with the board, he had been allowed to develop his career unhindered.

It was only when he fast-tracked his way into EPL management that the charismatic, arrogant and eccentric clown prince of football unleashed a surreal firestorm over his dodgy political convictions.

Everything from the Italian constitution and heritage of the North East of England working class to the doctrines of Hitler and Mussolini to the European holocaust and Ethiopian genocide have featured in the hysterical dialectics about whether Di Canio is now fit for English football .

A high-level politician resigned from the Sunderland board, some fans threw their season tickets back and a mining union broke its long links with the club.

Even a pillar of the British establishment, the church, sent up an angry flare. The Dean of Durham wrote in an open letter to the club and Di Canio that he found the new manager's self-confessed fascism "deeply troubling".

Di Canio and his new employers did not help matters in a series of PR blunders. At his first Sunderland press conference, Di Canio tried to dodge questions about his inflammable politics, saying his political views were irrelevant and that "football is not the Houses of Parliament".

He conveniently forgot he made his political gesture on a football pitch to football supporters, thus exposing the fascist's other weakness other than ignorance - gross hypocrisy (his autobiographer, Gabriele Marcotti, claimed he is not a racist, but "just didn't grasp the meaning of that gesture").

Under pressure, Di Canio later denied he was a fascist or a racist. Unlike the zero tolerance towards Katidis, he has seemingly ridden out the storm.

Di Canio remains an EPL manager and he will lead his new team out for his first game against Chelsea.

Should we, however, care all that much about the non-football views of people like Di Canio and Katidis? Most Sunderland fans just want a manager who can save their season.

Thankfully, the rule of law protects freedom and democracy against those who threaten their survival, so football need not waste too much time and energy dealing with people like Di Canio.

Besides, banning everyone with disturbing viewpoints from the game would surely enact the very illiberal policies the far right wishes to impose.

It is better that fascists and racists remain in the open so we know where they are. We can make a dignified, united stand and help de-construct their warped views.

The Stadium of Light might be the very place for Di Canio.

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