Fascism row comes to the fore as Di Canio faces press
SUNDERLAND - Agence France-PresseNew Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio today faced a barrage of questions about his support for fascism, after his appointment prompted a club director to quit and outrage among many fans.
The club in northeast England, a former industrial area built on coal mining, ship-building and heavy industry, also provoked the ire of one trade union, which has demanded that it remove its banner from its Stadium of Light ground.
Di Canio, facing the media for the first time since succeeding Martin O’Neill on March 31, was repeatedly asked whether he was a fascist, in reference to a statement he made in 2005 when he said: “I am a fascist, not a racist.”
The former Lazio, Celtic and West Ham United striker, who was also once banned for giving a raised-arm salute to hardcore fans of the Rome club, responded: “I don’t have to answer that anymore.
“There was a very good statement from the club, very, very clear words that came from me. I don’t want to talk anymore about politics. We’re not in the Houses of Parliament. I’m not a political person.
“I only want to talk about football... In 45 years, I’ve never had a problem with anyone.”
The news conference in Sunderland was not broadcast live by television channels, apparently in response to fears about stoking further controversy.
A media officer for the struggling Premier League club repeatedly tried to prevent questions about Di Canio’s right-wing political leanings, referring reporters to his previous statement.
Di Canio said then that talk about racism was “absolutely stupid, stupid and ridiculous,” while Sunderland chief executive Margaret Byrne denounced the claims of racism and fascism as “insulting not only to him but to the integrity” of the club.
Britain’s former foreign secretary David Miliband, though, announced his resignation as vice-chairman and non-executive director of the Black Cats because of Di Canio’s “past political statements”.
The director of Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE), Piara Powar, also warned that the appointment was “worrying” given Di Canio’s refusal to clarify or renounce his views at a time of an apparent increase in racism incidents in the game.
Sunderland’s shirt sponsor, the not-for-profit business initiative Invest in Africa, refused to be drawn on whether Di Canio’s political stance might affect their relationship with the club.
“It is a football-related matter and under the remit of the club,” said a spokesperson.