• Premier League

Concerns raised over Di Canio appointment

ESPN staff
April 1, 2013
Paolo Di Canio once declared: "I am a fascist, not a racist.'' © Getty Images

Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio must explain his past admission to being a fascist, according to Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) director Piara Powar.

Di Canio, who was announced as Sunderland's new boss on Sunday, admitted to having fascist leanings in 2005, telling Italian news agency ANSA: "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.

And Powar is concerned that the arrival of Di Canio, who once gave a fascist salute while playing for Lazio, could have a negative effect on the Premier League.

"When there is a rise of intolerance and there is a coach in the Barclays Premier League, which is the most watched league globally, who hasn't clarified or wanted to renounce his fascist views during his time in the UK, it is a worrying time,'' Powar told Press Association Sport. "Di Canio has the opportunity to clarify his views and let us know what his approach will be and how his strongly held views will influence how he will do his job.

"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.

"I think from our perspective we would say we are seeing the rise of the far right and the intolerance and hatred that goes with that across Europe. 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.''

Di Canio, who resigned as manager of Swindon in February, was the subject of a Football Association investigation last year after striker Jonathan Tehoue's claim that he was racially abused by the Italian.

He was later cleared of the charge, but with several other high-profile examples of racism having taken place in England of late, Powar is adamant that Di Canio should clarify his political leanings.

"We live in a different political climate than 2011 and there has been a lot gone on in football over issues of race and that gives a different focus to a manager who calls himself a fascist being appointed to a top post.

"Fascism is an ideology which at heart is about intolerance and a way of government that has no place in the 21st century. It is all the more prevalent now as we see a rise of the far right through racial attacks.

"There is no question to have a manager who calls himself a fascist at at Premier League club will encourage those movements. I think there is no place in a sport which seeks to draw out positive impact on social relations and community to have someone who says 'I am a fascist and I admire Mussolini'.''

When asked if Di Canio could be the right choice for Sunderland to help ensure they beat the drop, Powar said: "There are all these good footballing reasons to employ him, but are footballing reasons enough when someone comes with the baggage he comes with?''

Sunderland supporters' groups believe the club's success is more important than politics but there is a concern over Di Canio's beliefs.

Supporters' Club member Stan Simpson, a season ticket holder for 40 years, said: "There is no way, as fans, we would entertain any fascism in our club. As long as he doesn't express any political opinions I can cope with it. I've got no problem with him being there. But if he expresses those sort of opinions while he's there, he should be sacked, it doesn't matter how or where. It's not acceptable in this country.''

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