Race-row soccer manager recants support for fascism

Race-row soccer manager recants support for fascism

Hours after local clergyman issues plea, Sunderland coach Paolo Di Canio declares: ‘I am not a racist and I do not support the ideology of fascism’

Paolo Di Canio (photo credit: CC-BY-SA-3.0/Hilton Teper)
Paolo Di Canio (photo credit: CC-BY-SA-3.0/Hilton Teper)

A day after trying to duck the issue of his politics, and hours after a local British church leader urged him to renounce right-wing extremism, the controversial Italian manager of a British soccer club on Wednesday declared that he is not a racist and does not “support the ideology of fascism.”

Paulo Di Canio gives a straight-arm salute in 1995 (photo credit: YouTube screenshot)
Paolo Di Canio gives a straight-arm salute in 1995 (photo credit: YouTube screenshot)

Paolo Di Canio, appointed as manager of Sunderland on Sunday, had said in a 2005 interview that “I am a fascist, not a racist.” His history of political controversy included giving a Nazi-style straight-arm salute to fans when he played for Rome club Lazio in 1995, and publishing expressions of empathy for Benito Mussolini in his autobiography.

In a statement published on Sunderland’s website on Wednesday afternoon, Di Canio wrote: “I am an honest man, my values and principles come from my family and my upbringing. I feel that I should not have to continually justify myself to people who do not understand this, however I will say one thing only – I am not the man that some people like to portray. I am not political, I do not affiliate myself to any organisation, I am not a racist and I do not support the ideology of fascism. I respect everyone. I am a football man and this and my family are my focus. Now I will speak only of football.”

The statement followed four days of relentless controversy since his appointment, which culminated in an open letter to the former Italian soccer international written by a leading local cleric. The dean of Durham, the Very Reverend Michael Sadgrove, who comes from a German Jewish refugee family, urged Di Canio to publicly renounce his support for fascism. He said he was dismayed that Di Canio had not yet chosen to do so, and that he did not see how he could go on supporting Sunderland football club unless he did.

Michael Sadgrove (photo credit: Courtesy)
Michael Sadgrove (photo credit: Courtesy)

“You say that you are not a racist, but it needs great sophistication to understand how fascism and racism are ultimately different,” Sadgrove wrote. “I can promise you that this distinction will be lost on the people of the North East where the [far-right] British National Party is finding fertile ground in which to sow the seeds of its pernicious and poisonous doctrine.

The UK’s Daily Mail on Wednesday published photographs of Di Canio attending the 2010 funeral of Paolo Signorelli, who it described as “a senior member of the Italian Socialist movement which grew out of the collapse of Benito Mussolini’s Fascist party,” and who “spent eight years in jail on remand after a bomb was set off killing 85 people at Bologna railway station in 1980.”

At a Tuesday morning press conference, Di Canio had tried not to answer questions about his political beliefs. “The fans have to think that my life speaks for me,’ he said, according to Britain’s Press Association. “Call Trevor Sinclair, call Chris Powell (black former soccer players). Call (agent) Phil Spencer, he’s Jewish. Call them…” Powell, interviewed subsequently by British journalists, said nothing definitive about Di Canio’s politics or worldview, merely noting dryly that his appointment by Sunderland was a “bold” move.

“What do I have to apologise for?” Di Canio asked on Tuesday.

David Miliband, a former British foreign secretary, quit as a vice chairman and a director of Sunderland on Sunday, the day Di Canio was appointed.

A former Italian international, Di Canio was a controversial player with an explosive temper, who gave the Nazi salute when playing for Lazio at a game in Rome in 1995 (and was banned for a game and fined as a result) and declared in a 2005 interview that, “I am a fascist, not a racist.” In an autobiography, he wrote of Mussolini, “His actions were often vile. But all this was motivated by a higher purpose. He was basically a very principled individual.” Di Canio has a tattoo reading “DUX” — referencing Mussolini, “Il Duce” — on his right arm.

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