A version of this article originally appeared on VICE Italy.
Last weekend, the eastern Italian town of Trieste hosted the finale of Italy’s super-featherweight boxing title. The match was won by 34-year-old Italian Moroccan boxer Hassan Nourdine, who also likes to go by “El Tiburón” (the shark). He beat his rival, Michele Broili, from Trieste, in all three rounds – 98 to 91, 98 to 91 and 96 to 95.
Nothing uncommon here, except for one small detail – Broili’s body features several Nazi tattoos, including the number 88, which represents the “Heil Hitler” salute, the SS Totenkopf, plus a few local references like the logo of the Veneto region skinheads and of Return to Camelot, a far-right rally that happens every five years.
In the following days, the Italian Boxing Federation “condemned and stigmatised” Broili’s “behaviour” and said it could sanction him based on the federation’s code of conduct. As reported by the local newspaper Il Gazzettino, he’s not currently under formal investigation, but the authorities are currently evaluating the case to “identify and notify him of possible criminal violations.”
However, there is some evidence that Broili’s tattoos were open knowledge in the boxing world. In February 2020, the organisers of a local boxing match made the news for featuring Broili on the cover of the event and photoshopping his Nazi tattoos out. In an interview after the match, Broili’s coach Denis Conte said his tattoos were “done in his youth” and “have been known for a while.”
Nourdine got his start in boxing quite late, at the age of 22, through a good friend of his. Although he’s a professional, he also works part-time in a factory to support himself and his family, including his one-year-old son. “In Italy, you can’t make a living out of boxing,” Nourdine said.
Nourdine said neither he nor his coach knew about Broili’s tattoos before the match. “We wanted to only focus on boxing,” he said. “We’ve always only cared about sports, not people’s political opinions.”
The first time he and his coach noticed the symbols was during the weigh-in the day before the match. “We didn’t comment on it but we were shocked,” Nourdine said. “If you’ve ever read a history book, even half a page, you couldn’t possibly feel anything but disgust towards what Nazism did to humanity.”
According to media reports, Broili’s fans also did the Roman Salute during the match, a gesture widely used during the Italian fascist regime and Nazi Germany. Nourdine, however, didn’t notice. “I want to specify that [Broili] was never disrespectful towards me, not when we were alone nor during the anti-doping tests,” Nourdine said. “He even complimented me.”
Winning the national title was the culmination of a dream, Nourdine said, especially under such circumstances. “It was a double win,” he continued. “Whoever wins out against these ideologies should be proud. You’re winning two battles at once.”