"We are anti-fascist, pro-equality, against intolerance, against homophobia", Santori told Agence France-Presse, as protesters sang the anti-fascist anthem Bella Ciao.
Organisers hope Saturday's event will be the biggest showing of the Sardines yet.
"We are tired of this culture of hatred", the movement's representative in the Italian capital, Stephen Ogongo, a 45-year-old journalist of Kenyan origin, said. The sports arena had a capacity for 5,700 people, and via an announcement on Santori's private Facebook page, the group invited people to a counter-rally at Bologna's Piazza Maggiore, with the aim of attracting 6,000 people. "I'm concerned that people are going to offload their bad feelings on the weakest and on the people who are coming here in desperate need of help". "The next day 20,000".
"The important thing is to see many people take to the streets to say 'we are tired of this culture of hatred".
Ogongo received threats and insults when he got Facebook to erase racist messages from an account bearing Salvini's name with the title Prime Minister.
Demonstrators are also protesting the mafia, climate change, and poverty in Italy. "The sardines are only people who fill a space with their ideas and fight an enemy - the simplification of problems by populists".
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Recently, Salvini's League has gained support in traditional left-wing strongholds, as in central Umbria, where the party achieved a historic victory in a regional vote in October.
As Salvini's far-right electoral alliance pursued its campaign, the Sardines converged in other Emilia-Romagna cities before spreading across Italy and beyond.
With the election set for January 26, the polls suggest the League's candidates are running neck and neck with the current centre-left governor.
Its founders say they have no ambitions to become a political party but the Sardines have become a strong adversary for Matteo Salvini, the right-wing leader of the League, Italy's largest political party.
Salvini has said he wants to conquer the regions one by one to bring down the current coalition between the Five Star Movement (M5S) and the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), and thus force early elections.