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Paolo Di Canio using the "Roman salute" at the end of the Italian Serie A match between Lazio and city rivals Roma at Olympic stadium in Rome in 2005. Filippo Monteforte / EPA
Paolo Di Canio using the 'Roman salute' at the end of the Italian Serie A match between Lazio and city rivals Roma at Olympic stadium in Rome in 2005. Filippo Monteforte / EPA

Paolo Di Canio says he was misunderstood but Lazio supporters' actions are not

Paolo Di Canio was and remains a hero to many Lazio fans. His use of politically charged gestures burnished his legend for some of them. He knew that, writes Ian Hawkey.

Paolo Di Canio, potentially another fine Italian coach in the making, has baggage. A British socialist politician, David Milliband, has resigned as a director of English Premier League club Sunderland on learning Di Canio is to be their new manager, citing the Roman's past declarations of his fascist sympathies.

Di Canio, an ardent Lazio supporter, and a former player with the capital club, was once condemned by Italian parliamentarians for celebrating triumphs with Lazio fans with the "Roman salute", a stiff-armed gesture that is virtually identical to the Nazi salute.

He has always felt wrongly characterised for that gesture, as he does when his stated admiration for some aspects of former dictator Benito Mussolini's government is, he believes, taken out of context. "I am a fascist, not a racist," he once said.

Di Canio was and remains a hero to many Lazio fans. His use of politically charged gestures burnished his legend for some of them. He knew that.

As Lazio prepare for a Europa League quarter-final, whose home leg must be played in an empty stadium because of fans' racist abuse to opponents in matches this season, he might reflect on the notion that, while he may claim he sees a clear distinction between acceptable right-wing views and unacceptable racism, many people who go to Lazio matches do not.

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