Sunderland finally responded to continuing uproar over their appointment of Paolo Di Canio as manager by releasing a statement from the Italian insisting he is not a racist and that he does not support "the ideology of fascism".
The statement followed the Dean of Durham becoming the latest public figure to voice disquiet over Di Canio’s appointment and questioning why he had not renounced fascism at a news conference yesterday.
New photographs also today emerged of Di Canio apparently attending the funeral of a well-known Italian fascist, but the 44-year-old’s statement appears designed to draw a line under the controversy.
In a statement issued by the club, Di Canio said: “I have clearly stated that I do not wish to speak about matters other than football, however, I have been deeply hurt by the attacks on the football club.
“This is a historic, proud and ethical club and to read and hear some of the vicious and personal accusations is painful. 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.”
In a 2005 interview, Di Canio stated he was “a fascist but not a racist”. He has also been pictured giving a fascist salute to Lazio ‘ultras’.
However, in a 2002 book ‘West Ham: Irons in the Soul’ by Pete May, Di Canio is quoted saying that while Italy might have “a better situation with Mussolini... I am not a Fascist” adding: “Black or white or yellow people, gay people, men or women, they can come to my house and be my friend because I am not xenophobic.”
The furore over Di Canio’s failure to renounce fascism reached new heights when The Very Reverend Michael Sadgrove, the Dean of Durham, wrote an open letter to saying he was struggling to stay loyal to the club and that he found Di Canio’s “self-confessed fascism deeply troubling”.
Sadgrove, the child of a Jewish war refugee, said in his letter: “I believe that unless you clearly renounce fascism in all its manifestations, you will be associated with these toxic far-right tendencies we have seen too much of in this region.”
He added: “Please tell me that I have misunderstood, or missed some fundamental issue here. I am simply telling you with a heavy heart that it feels hard at the moment to stay loyal.”
At a news conference yesterday, Di Canio blasted the furore over his appointment as Sunderland manager as “ridiculous and pathetic” and warned that he may not speak to media who continue to question him on the subject.
His appointment led to the resignation of the club’s vice-chairman David Miliband, Labour MP for South Shields and former foreign secretary, and the Durham Miners’ Association has asked the club to return a symbolic banner which is kept at the Stadium of Light if Di Canio remains in his post.
However, Lazio Football Club historian Alfonso Dessi claimed Di Canio was a “true fascist” who had made a huge impact on the club’s ‘ultra’ fans.
Dessi told ITV News: “He was a true fascist. He declared himself a fascist and never denied his ideas but this matter had no impact on the... football institutions.
“He had a huge impact on the so-called hooligans because of his political ideas but no impact on the media.”