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By ESPN Staff

Di Canio defends raised arm salute

ROME, Dec 13 (Reuters) - Lazio's Paolo di Canio has defended making a raised arm salute at the end of last weekend's 2-1 defeat at Livorno.

The incident happened as the controversial 37-year-old walked off after the final whistle under grandstands containing Lazio fans.

'I saluted my people with what for me is a sign of belonging to a group that holds true values, values of civility against the standardisation that this society imposes upon us,' the striker told Italian radio station Radio Spazio Aperto.

'I'm proud to be able to count on such people and I will continue to salute them in this way.'

The match in Livorno was as much a conflict of political views as a sporting event. Livorno are known in Italy for the hard left-wing politics of their supporters while Lazio's ultras have often aligned themselves with the far right.

The game was played in a poisonous atmosphere. The home supporters chanted anti-facist songs while the visitors held up a swastika.

'I was the object of very heavy insults throughout the match, but I didn't react,' Di Canio said.

It is not the first time Di Canio has made the raised arm gesture. He was fined 10,000 euros ($11,900) for doing the same at the end of Lazio's win over arch-rivals Roma in January.

Italy's Football League has not taken action over the latest incident. If it does, Di Canio expects his club to defend him.

'I expect a robust defence from my club and this time I'm not going to settle for anything less.

'I expect my president to defend me, just like presidents do in other clubs, otherwise I'm going to be really pissed off.'

However, the chances of a split between Lazio and its most famous player are growing because Lazio appeared to distance themselves from the gesture.

'Lazio repudiates any kind of racism or politicisation of football, both on the pitch and off it, and invites its shareholders and its fans to react against any attempt to pollute the language of sport,' it said on its website.

Di Canio's gesture caused particular outrage amongst Jewish groups in Italy. The president of the Italian Maccabi Federation, Vittorio Pavoncello, called on Lazio and Italian soccer authorities to take action.

Di Canio brushed their protests aside.

'If we are in the hand of the Jewish community it's the end,' he said. 'If action is taken because one community is up in arms it could be dangerous.'