A boxing title match has sparked a row in Italy after it emerged that one of the contenders had several neo-Nazi tattoos.
The boxer, Michele Broili, 28, was defeated on Sunday night in Trieste for the super-featherweight title by Hassan Nourdine, 34, in a match that reignited the debate in Italy on the display of Nazi and fascist symbols.
Sports authorities are examining how it was possible that a boxer with tattoos including a flag with the inscription SS was allowed to be a member of the professional Italian Boxing Federation (FPI).
“When I got into the ring and saw those tattoos, I was shocked,” Nourdine, who was born in Morocco and hailed as a hero by the press after his victory, told the national newspaper La Stampa.
The match was broadcast live on the Gazzetta dello Sport website, the largest sports newspaper in Italy. It provoked anger in thousands of viewers, who objected to the numerous Nazi symbols tattooed on Broili’s body, including the number 88, a white supremacist numerical code for Heil Hitler; the totenkopf, a symbol of the paramilitary unit that helped run concentration camps in Nazi Germany; and the logo of a skinhead organisation from Veneto. Before the bout, Broili also made the fascist salute to his staff.
“I found those tattoos obscene. There is no justification,” said Nourdine, who lives in Asti, Piedmont. “The Italian Boxing Federation should have realised from the beginning that this boxer had those sympathies. Inciting hatred is punishable by law.”
The Italian Boxing Federation released a statement saying that all its members must refrain from any discriminatory behaviour. It said it would submit the case to the sports justice body. However, the federation did not explain why such action was not taken sooner in the tournament. Broili recorded 16 professional matches before the latest one on Sunday.
According to media reports, the boxer is not only in danger of being disbarred from the boxing federation. Police are also looking into the case, and prosecutors in Trieste are evaluating whether to launch a criminal investigation. Italian law bans the revival of fascism, including making a fascist salute, which carries a sentence of up to two years in prison, though it has rarely been enforced and investigators would probably have to prove Broili made the gesture in the context of an attempt at a fascist revival.
Italy’s former centre-left administration drafted a law in 2017 to ban all fascist and Nazi symbols, including the distribution of fascist paraphernalia, but failed to get it approved by both chambers of parliament.
Broili has so far declined to comment, but his coach, Denis Conte, told the news agency Ansa: “Michele only talks about sport and only wants to do sport. Michele is the prototype of the athlete who wakes up at four in the morning to train.”
According to some witnesses, Broili’s supporters sang Nazi songs and exchanged salutes until he arrived in the ring.
Nourdine said: “For me, all this is not normal. But I cannot deny that beating someone with those tattoos is a victory worth double.”