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October 26, 2021 4:41 pm

Italian Jews Call on Rome Soccer Club Lazio to Clamp Down on Fascist Salutes by Far-Right Supporters

avatar by Ben Cohen

Supporters of Italian soccer team Lazio are seen prior to their Oct. 16 clash with Inter Milan as an eagle – the team’s symbol – flies in Rome’s Stadio Olimpico. Photo: Reuters/Tony Gentile

A Rome soccer team with a violent far-right following has sparked outrage among Italian Jews following fascist salutes made by a group of fans during a match in Italy’s top division.

Rome side Lazio’s 3-1 victory over Inter Milan in Italy’s elite Serie A competition was accompanied by scenes of supporters raising their right arms in the traditional fascist greeting while chanting “Duce, Duce,” the title adopted by Italy’s wartime fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. Video of the crowd showed the chants being led by a man holding a live eagle — Lazio’s mascot — and wearing the team’s blue and white colors.

In the wake of the match on Oct. 16, the Union of Italian Jewish Communities (UCEI) called on Lazio to denounce fascist salutes by its supporters.

In a statement, UCEI President Noemi Di Segni said that Lazio and the Italian Football Federation should “intervene with the utmost urgency and effectiveness.”

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“Faced with the ostentation of gestures and symbols that evoke fascist ideals, there can be no ambiguity and hesitation,” Di Segni declared.

“The world of football must free itself from fascists and carriers of hatred, a hatred that from the soccer fields spreads to the squares,” she stated.

Di Segni emphasized that Lazio’s reported decision to ban the supporter brandishing the eagle — named as Juan Bernabe — was “not enough.”

“I believe that a legal intervention is necessary to assess whether the words and gestures seen in the video are of a criminal nature,” Di Segni told the newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport.

Bernabe, who is originally from Spain, affirmed in a separate interview that he had no regrets over his actions.

“For me the fascist salute is a military salute. I was born into the army. I have a right-wing culture,” he said.

“I did shout ‘Duce, Duce,'” he continued. “I don’t deny this because I respect Mussolini, he did great things for Italy just as [fascist dictator Francisco] Franco did for Spain.”

Lazio’s violent far-right “ultras,” who call themselves the “Irriducibile,” are notorious for antisemitic and racist chants. In 2017, the group sparked a furor by distributing leaflets that depicted Holocaust diarist Anne Frank wearing the shirt of city rivals AS Roma.

The “Irriducibile” also retain connections with extremist groups and criminal gangs. In Aug. 2019, the group’s leader, Fabrizio Piscitelli, also known as “Diabolik,” was shot dead in broad daylight in a Rome street in an execution-style hit.

Meanwhile, Lazio courted further controversy over its fascist links last weekend. Among the players fielded by coach Maurizio Sarri in Saturday’s 4-1 thrashing of Hellas Verona was defender Romano Floriani Mussolini — the great-grandson of the fascist dictator.

Romano is the third son of Alessandra Mussolini, the dictator’s granddaughter and a long-serving member of the Italian parliament representing neo-fascist parties. In an interview with the Italian daily Il Messaggero last February, Romano said he was unfazed by his ancestor’s legacy and saw no reason to hide his family name.

“Here at Lazio, I am judged only for the way I play and not because my surname is Mussolini,” the 18-year-old declared.

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