Soccer (illustration)
Soccer (illustration) iStock

A former Italian soccer player who was suspended as a TV commentator after displaying a pro-fascist tattoo has stressed he repudiates “anti-Semitic, racist, discriminatory, and violent” views, JTA reported on Monday.

The player, Paolo Di Canio, was suspended by the Sky Sports Italia channel in September after he appeared during soccer coverage wearing a short-sleeved shirt that revealed his tattoo reading “DUX.”

The Latin term for leader, Dux is the origin of the Italian term “Il Duce,” which was the title chosen by Benito Mussolini, who ruled Italy for two decades and was an ally of Adolf Hitler.

The incident touched off a storm of protest from viewers and on social media before the channel decided to suspend Di Canio.

Di Canio, who has sported the tattoo for well over a decade, has long been known for his pro-fascist views. In 2005 he was fined twice and suspended for giving the fascist straight-armed salute after matches.

But in a letter to Noemi Di Segni, the president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities (UCEI), Di Canio said he wanted to send a message to the entire Jewish community and stressed his opposition to anti-Semitism.

“I believe, without ifs, ands, or buts, that Mussolini’s racist laws were a terrible infamy for the history of our country, an infamy that caused immense tragedy for thousands of Jews in Italy,” Di Canio wrote to Di Segni, according to JTA, saying that this was his “convinced and determined” position.

He added that as a public personality he felt the need to contribute “to sensitize our young people toward sentiments of solidarity and respect, to unite and not to divide, against any form of hatred, anti-Semitism, and racism.”

Di Segni did not respond directly, but according to the UCEI website, noted, “A sense of responsibility in stemming any hatred, which weighs even more heavily on those who address the general public and who, by playing a specific role has clear media recognition, inevitably contributes to form the conscience and opinions, especially of young people."

Di Canio’s suspension, incidentally, came just a week after Italian football federation President Carlo Tavecchio "strongly condemned" a group of traveling Italy fans who gave fascist salutes before a win against Israel in Haifa.

The incident occurred during the national anthems of the 2018 World Cup qualifier and was reported on a website of Italian Jews.

In late August, Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) flags were seen during a soccer match in France between Israeli Beitar Jerusalem and Saint-Étienne.

A week earlier, supporters of Glasgow’s Celtic Football Club waved PLO flags during their Champions League qualifier against Israel’s Hapoel Be'er Sheva, prompting the Union of European Football (UEFA) to launch disciplinary proceedings against Celtic.

Last year, UEFA considered punitive actions against the Belgian Charleroi soccer team, after Charleroi fans taunted Beitar Jerusalem fans during a game with Nazi salutes and anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli chants.