Paolo Di Canio deflects fascism questions

New Sunderland manager faces barrage of questions at news conference but describes controversy as 'ridiculous'.

Last Modified: 02 Apr 2013 13:26
Email Article
Print Article
Share article
Send Feedback
The 44-year-old former Lazio striker replaced Martin O’Neill at the relegation-threatened English club, sparking outrage among many fans [AFP]

New Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio on Tuesday 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 they remove its banner from their Stadium of Light ground.

Di Canio, facing the media for the first time since succeeding Martin O'Neill on Sunday, 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 English 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.

Political fallout

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.

In February, Sunderland announced that they had signed a partnership with the Nelson Mandela Foundation to help promote the former South Africa president's "legacy of social justice", including support for football's quest to eradicate racism.

Meanwhile, late on Monday, the Durham Miners' Association, which represents former coal workers, including those who worked at the old colliery where Sunderland's ground is located, voiced their anger.

"The appointment of Di Canio is a disgrace and a betrayal of all who fought and died in the fight against fascism," the union's general-secretary, Dave Hopper, was quoted as saying by the Northern Echo newspaper.

"Everyone must speak out and oppose this outrage and call on (chairman) Ellis Short and the Sunderland board to reverse their decision," added Hopper, who worked for 27 years at Wearmouth Colliery.

The GMB, one of Britain's largest trade unions and a key donor to the country's opposition Labour Party, in 2011 pulled its sponsorship of Di Canio's former club, Swindon Town, when he became manager.

Di Canio developed a reputation as a hothead during spells as a player with British clubs Celtic, Sheffield Wednesday, West Ham and Charlton Athletic.

He was banned for 11 matches for shoving a referee in September 1998 and also had several run-ins with players during his successful 21-month stint at Swindon.

However, he said he was not worried about bruising egos at Sunderland, who sit a point above the Premier League relegation zone with seven matches to play.

"It's better to have 15 players ready for the fight than 25 players that are completely lazy," he said. "It would be better to find a different situation, but I think I have enough quality to work with."


Email Article
Print Article
Share article
Send Feedback
Topics in this article
Featured on Al Jazeera
More than one-quarter of Gaza's population has been displaced, causing a humanitarian crisis.
Ministers and MPs caught on camera sleeping through important speeches have sparked criticism that they are not working.
Muslim charities claim discrimination after major UK banks began closing their accounts.
Italy struggles to deal with growing flood of migrants willing to risk their lives to reach the nearest European shores.
Some scientists say authorities in favour of nuclear energy tend to deny the negative results of researchers.
Report on child sex abuse in British Asian community highlights issues that may affect the entire nation.
Taliban makes quick gains in Afghanistan with little opposition from Afghan army as US withdrawal begins.
Experts from Minamata, Japan check for signs of mercury illnesses in Ontario, Canada.
Record numbers of migrants have made harrowing sea journeys to Italy and Greece this year.
join our mailing list