Sunderland Football Club released an official statement today attempting to diffuse the controversy regarding the appointment of new manager Paolo Di Canio, who — as some believe — is a self-proclaimed fascist. The club has also moved quickly to stamp out allegations of racist beliefs.
But by doing so, Sunderland have opened up a can of worms. Nowhere in the 663 word statement does Paolo Di Canio state that he’s not a fascist. Instead, he sidestepped the issue by saying:
“I don’t want to talk about politics because it’s not my area. We are not in the Houses of Parliament, we are in a football club. I want to talk about sport. I want to talk about football, my players, the Board and the fans. My first priority is my family and my daughters, that’s obvious, and secondly to have the responsibility for thousands of people. This is my priority and I want to be focused on this aspect. I don’t want to talk any more about politics – I am not a politics person.”
Sunderland CEO Margaret Byrne, however, said:
“To accuse him now, as some have done, of being a racist or having fascist sympathies, is insulting not only to him but to the integrity of this football club.”
Whether Di Canio is a fascist or not, it’s silly of Sunderland and Di Canio to expect that questions about the new manager’s political beliefs would not come into question especially after Sunderland executive director David Miliband resigned yesterday in protest at Di Canio’s appointment.
In order to put this issue to bed, a better move by Sunderland would have been to encourage Di Canio to come out and admit that he’s not a fascist. Until Di Canio addresses the issue head-on, I don’t see the controversy disappearing.
In his autobiography, which was ghost-written by journalist Gabriele Marcotti, Di Canio said that fascist dictator Benito Mussolini was misunderstood. However, that same passage in the book includes Di Canio condemning the former Italian leader.
Di Canio also generated controversy when he made a salute (pictured above). According to Marcotti, “That’s a roman fascist salute to Lazio fans who made [the] same [salute] back. It’s their salute. [Di Canio was] not making [a] nazi statement.”
Despite this, in a 2005 interview, Di Canio proclaimed himself “a fascist, not a racist.”
The question remains regarding whether he still considers himself a fascist or not, which has gone unanswered in the official statement from Sunderland. While the club says “Neither Sunderland AFC, nor Paolo Di Canio, will make any further comment on this matter,” I believe the club and manager have to address the situation in the coming days otherwise the controversy is going to start impacting the manager and Sunderland players on the pitch.