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Paolo Di Canio and Sunderland Attempt to Diffuse Fascist Allegations, But Open Up a Can of Worms Instead

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.

What do you think about the controversy? Should Di Canio come out and answer the question directly, or should politics and football not mix? Share your opinions in the comments section below.

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  1. Pete

    April 1, 2013 at 8:17 pm

    This happened 8 years ago and now it seems to be news both on this site and in the UK?

    Politics needs to be kept out of football, he’s an ex footballer and now manager, I presume he got hired to keep Sunderland up and if he does that then the fans and staff will be happy regardless of his political beliefs.

    It just seems like the press dragging up an old story for a few headlines and some newspaper sales

  2. Smokey Bacon

    April 1, 2013 at 7:18 pm

    He could just be waving at somebody in the crowd while sneezing 🙂

    I bet there are many players, managers etc with distasteful views on all sorts on issues, just like there are in all walks of life. I would not want Di Canio as my MP or Prime Minister but I might let trust him to keep Sunderland from the drop.

    So sad we have to talk about this and not the football. Let the players and people in the game judge his character. By all accounts he was a good influence at Swindon.

  3. Steve

    April 1, 2013 at 5:00 pm

    He should have been punished for that salute. A greek soccer player did that not long ago and was banned for life.

  4. JACK

    April 1, 2013 at 3:20 pm

    come on Gaffer, you cant be that outspoken just a few months ago about Facist views and change your mind so quickly

    • The Gaffer

      April 1, 2013 at 3:25 pm

      When I was outspoken about fascist views in the past?

      The Gaffer

  5. Nick

    April 1, 2013 at 12:36 pm

    Gaffer, maybe there’s more that I just don’t know, but it seems to me we’re really taking our own WWII understanding of the word “fascism.” A vast majority of adults are, by the definition of the word, fascists. I shouldn’t need to write much on socio-economics and the history of the west for this assertion to be, if taken at face value, accepted.

    Is the problem that we are saying he is a fascist but what we really mean is he is a frothing racist who is contradictory to football’s fake kick it out PR campaign? If that is the case, then I would ask that we get to the point and stop using such a misunderstood term. “Fascism” has toxicity in its linguistic use, and that is because here in America, and obviously across the pond as well, it has been beaten into our heads that the term means all of these other things that we associate with hate and evil.

    I would ask, what about sport is not fascist? What about the coaching / managing mantras of people like, say, Jose Mourinho or Sir Alex Ferguson are not fascist? Us against the world, everyone is out to get us, love each other, scorn all other men. That is fascism. It is also successful football. When a manager comes along that is more “tolerant,” you all make fun of him to no end. You come up with names to call him. You joke about his skinny ties, perfect grooming and resemblance to Juan Mata.

    As an enjoyer of sport, I have searched through and come to terms with the role that fascism plays in the success of teams. What annoys me to no end is this incessant need to use a word that we all know will poison any rational conversation because of its connotations.

    I know nothing of Di Canio; I am not defending him; I am not defending Sunderland; I am not defending fascism. Quite the opposite, in fact. I am simply asking that we define just what we are talking about.

    Love the work you do, and I have no real problem with this article. My problem is that we all conveniently pretend like team sport is not inherently fascist. We all need to grow up and stop fearing words.

    • The Gaffer

      April 1, 2013 at 12:59 pm

      Nick, those are excellent points but the world we live in is full of words that are used to label people such as “liberal,” “conservative,” “fundamentalist,” and so on. I don’t see that changing unfortunately.

      The Gaffer

  6. Dean Stell

    April 1, 2013 at 12:23 pm

    I guess I’d just like to know better what he means by being “pro fascism”. Does that just mean he wants a non-democratic, pro-Italian government? I guess that doesn’t necessarily mean he’d be racist….unless his idea of Italian didn’t include people like Mario Balotelli or gay people or gypsies or whatever.

    Does he just mean a “strongman” government? Even if those aren’t racist, they kinda have a hard time being fair to people who want to vote (and stuff like that).

  7. Gareth

    April 1, 2013 at 11:54 am

    When somebody flat-out says “I am a fascist”, I really don’t think you need to headline it as “Allegations.” That’s pretty much definitive.

    • The Gaffer

      April 1, 2013 at 11:58 am

      True Gareth, but I’m giving Di Canio the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he’s changed his mind and is no longer a fascist? And judging by Sunderland’s emphatic statement that “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,” I think it’s only fair to say that they’re allegations until Di Canio comes out and says whether he’s still a fascist or not.

      The Gaffer

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