Labelled fascist, racist and violent, Lazio fans need to work on image

Lazio last week suspended their ‘eagle handler’, Spaniard Juan Bernabe after he was caught on video giving the crowd a fascist salute and shouting “Duce, Duce, Duce”.

‘Duce’ was the nickname for the late Italian fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini. Initially, he tried to assure everyone that it was a “military salute” and that he was right-wing, but not a fascist, in reference to his political ideology.

However, he backtracked on that in an interview with the Il Messaggero newspaper, by admitting that he admired Mussolini and Spanish dictator, Francisco Franco.

Bernabe has been making the bald eagle, Olympia, fly from one end of the stadium to the other since 2010. The eagle is Lazio’s mascot.

This is the latest in a long list of troubles the club has faced as they try to get rid of their reputation of being a club with fascist and racist supporters.

In pre-season, the new signing, Albanian Elseid Hysaj faced vitriol from Lazio fans after he sang Bella Ciao, a song popularised by the Netflix show, Money Heist, as part of its initiation. However, that song had left-wing connotations as it was sung by partisans who defeated the Nazis and Mussolini.

In response, Lazio fans displayed a banner proudly proclaiming to be fascists and calling Hysaj a worm. The Ultras even went to a restaurant to confront him, but he had left. Eventually, they arranged to meet him outside a hotel with Lazio’s sporting director, Igli Tare, and a group of police officers in attendance.

In March this year, Mussolini’s great-grandson, Romano Floriani Mussolini, signed a professional contract with the club after impressing for their youth teams, and was called up to the senior squad for their match against Hellas Verona. Despite belonging to a political family, the junior Mussolini has been quick to distance himself from politics.

Lazio fans have also incurred the club numerous fines and stadium closures for racist and anti-Semitic chanting during matches. Among their supporter base, the main source of fascism comes from the Ultras group, ‘Irriducibili’. Even though they disbanded in 2020, fascist and racist elements remain among the supporters.

However, the situation is not all bad.

I interviewed a die-hard Lazio fan, who is a Singaporean, for my podcast. While he acknowledged that there are Lazio fans that are racists and fascists, he feels the newspapers in Italy are unfairly treating Lazio fans.

Inter’s Ultras are also known to be right-wing and fascist, yet they do not get the same publicity as Lazio fans. He has native friends that have openly told him that they are fascists, but he describes them as some of the nicest human beings on earth. He feels it’s just a political ideology, and that they are not racist or violent.

He has been to Rome’s Stadio Olimpico at least a couple of times and stood in the Lazio end of the stadium, Curva Nord, with a banner that read “From Singapore, 10,000km For You”, which is the distance from Singapore to Rome.

He wrote two books, 10,000km For You and 10,000km For You 2. In the books, he wrote about being greeted warmly by native Lazio fans.

The only time he faced anything racist was from a rival Roma supporter.

The overlying impression of Lazio fans is that they are fascists, racist, and violent. The club has its work cut out for them if they are to improve their image.

The issue of racism has reared its ugly head across the football world on numerous occasions, but for Italy, a lot more needs to be done to stamp it out of the game.

This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Twentytwo13.

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