• Premier League

Di Canio insists he is not racist

ESPN staff
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Di Canio in charge at Sunderland

New Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio has issued a statement on the club's official website to insist any suggestion he is racist is "absolutely stupid".

The statement comes after Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) director Piara Powar called on the former Swindon boss to explain his past admission to being a fascist.

Di Canio, announced as Sunderland's new boss on Sunday, told an Italian news agency in 2005: "I am a fascist, not a racist.''

Former Labour MP David Miliband immediately resigned from his role as Sunderland's vice-chairman and non-executive director after the Italian's appointment, citing the coach's "past political statements" as the reason for his departure.

Di Canio's statement, issued by Sunderland on Monday, said: "Something can happen many years ago, but what counts is the facts. My life speaks for me. Of course it hurts me because people try to take your dignity and that is not fair.

"I believe in my pillars and I have values. What offends me more than anything is not because they touch me; they touch what my parents gave to me, the values they gave to me. This is not acceptable.

"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 never have a problem in my past. I expressed an opinion in an interview many years ago. Some pieces were taken for media convenience. They took my expression in a very, very negative way - but it was a long conversation and a long interview.

"It was not fair. I know it is a part of my job to do interviews because I am well-known, but sometimes it suits their purpose to put big headlines and a big story."

Di Canio said he did not "have a problem with anyone" and said he did not 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".

And he added: "Talk about racism? That is absolutely stupid, stupid and ridiculous. The people who know me can change that idea quickly. When I was in England, my best friends were Trevor Sinclair and Chris Powell, the Charlton manager - they can tell you everything about my character."

Di Canio said he did not want to talk about politics "because it's not my area" and added: "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."

Earlier, Power had told Press Association Sport: "It would be hypocritical of us [at FARE] not to point out his self-proclaimed fascist past when we are outraged by Lazio fans when they make the Roman salute, which we all know has been made famous by Hitler and the far right.

"When they make that gesture and monkey noises to black players, it is hypocritical to pick the views of fans and not a manager at a top-level side. Di Canio has made that salute himself as a player.

"Being a fascist is not a soft political label. In many ways, it's a political label that comes across with all sorts of dangerous ideas and ideals and that is the concern for us.''

Sunderland said neither they nor Di Canio would be making any further comment on the matter following the issuing of the statement. CEO Margaret Byrne defended the Black Cats manager as "an honest man, a man of principle and a driven, determined and passionate individual".

She 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.

"My role and that of the board is to act in the best interests of this club at all times, and in appointing Paolo Di Canio we feel we have done just that. It is disappointing that some people are trying to turn the appointment of a head coach into a political circus."

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