Sunderland’s new coach Paolo Di Canio today rebuffed questions about whether he holds fascist political views when he gave his first news conference since being appointed.
The 44-year-old Italian replaced Martin O’Neill, who was fired three days ago as Sunderland struggles to avoid relegation from English soccer’s Premier League.
In a 2005 interview with Italian news agency Ansa, Di Canio described himself as “a fascist, not a racist.” His appointment at Sunderland has led to protests from some fans and the resignation of former U.K. Foreign Secretary David Miliband as club vice-chairman. Today Di Canio refused to say whether he’s a fascist when questioned by reporters.
“I don’t have to answer any more this question.” he said. “My life speaks for me, so there is no need to speak any more about this situation because it’s ridiculous and pathetic. I can’t every two weeks, every two months, every 10 months, answer the same questions that are not really in my area.”
He added that “we are in a football club and not in the House of Parliament. I’m not a political person, I will talk about only football.”
Miliband cited “the new manager’s past political statements” as the reason for his departure. Miliband, the elder brother of opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband, quit British politics last week. He’ll become president of a New York-based humanitarian-aid organization.
Durham miners called Di Canio’s appointment a “disgrace and a betrayal of all who fought and died in the fight against fascism.” They demanded the return of a trade-union banner that’s been displayed at the northeast England club’s stadium.
The club and Di Canio attempted to defuse the situation yesterday by releasing a statement that addressed previous comments and actions. They included his being pictured making a fascist-style salute to fans of his former club Lazio.
“I expressed an opinion in an interview many years ago. Some pieces were taken for media convenience,” Di Canio said yesterday. “They took my expression in a very, very negative way, but it was a long conversation and a long interview. It was not fair. Sometimes it suits their purpose to put big headlines and a big story.”
Di Canio went on to say claims he was racist were “stupid and ridiculous,” citing his friendship with Trevor Sinclair and Chris Powell, two black former English national team players.
Sunderland is one point and two places above the Premier League’s relegation zone with seven games left.
Di Canio, whose playing career included spells in the English league with West Ham, Sheffield Wednesday and Charlton, has never managed in England’s top two divisions. He quit as coach of third-tier Swindon Town in February.
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