British Jewish politician David Miliband resigned as the vice chairman of an English soccer club Sunday, in protest at its appointment of a self-described fascist as its manager.
Miliband, a former British foreign secretary, said he could not continue as a vice chairman and a director of Sunderland football club because it had named as its new manager Paolo Di Canio, an Italian player turned coach who gave a Nazi-style salute at a game in Rome and expressed empathy for Italy’s fascist leader Benito Mussolini.
“I wish Sunderland AFC all success in the future,” Miliband stated. “However, in the light of the new manager’s past political statements, I think it right to step down.”
Miliband joined the board of the club two years ago, after narrowly losing a race to lead Britain’s opposition Labor party to his younger brother Ed. Labor under Ed Miliband is now far ahead of Prime Minister David Cameron’s ruling Conservative Party in opinion polls, and well-placed to win the next British general elections in 2015, which would give the UK its first avowedly Jewish prime minister. David Miliband announced earlier this month that he would be quitting his position as a member of parliament to helm a major NGO in New York, the International Rescue Committee.
The Miliband brothers are the children of Polish Jewish immigrants. While Ed contentedly identifies as Jewish, broke a glass after his civil wedding ceremony in 2011, and has reportedly said he feels he has lost out by not involving himself more in his religion, David has described himself as “an atheist” with “huge respect” for people of faith.
Di Canio was named Sunday to take over at Sunderland, after the club sacked its well-regarded coach Martin O’Neill as it battles to avoid relegation from English soccer’s top Premier League.
Responding to Miliband on Monday, Di Canio said in a statement: “I don’t have a problem with anyone. I don’t know why I have to keep repeating my story, to be defending myself on something that doesn’t belong to me every time I change clubs. Talk about racism? That is absolutely stupid, stupid and ridiculous… What I can say is that if someone is hurt, I am sorry. But this didn’t come from me — it came from a big story that people put out in a different way to what it was…”
“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. I don’t want to talk any more about politics — I am not a politics person.”
The Unite Against Fascism organization, meanwhile, urged Di Canio to retract his comments on fascism, saying his political views were “an insult” to the people of Sunderland who died fighting the Nazis.
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 openly in 2005 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.”
The Times of Israel covers one of the most complicated, and contentious, parts of the world. Determined to keep readers fully informed and enable them to form and flesh out their own opinions, The Times of Israel has gradually established itself as the leading source of independent and fair-minded journalism on Israel, the region and the Jewish world.
We've achieved this by investing ever-greater resources in our journalism while keeping all of the content on our site free.
Unlike many other news sites, we have not put up a paywall. But we would like to invite readers who can afford to do so, and for whom The Times of Israel has become important, to help support our journalism by joining The Times of Israel Community. Join now and for as little as $6 a month you can both help ensure our ongoing investment in quality journalism, and enjoy special status and benefits as a Times of Israel Community member.