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Pressure mounts on Di Canio

IN THE HOTSEAT: Di Canio's appointment at Sunderland has thrown up past incidents

SUNDERLAND FOOTBALL Club’s appointment of Paolo Di Canio last Sunday has faced mounting scrutiny because of the Italian’s past actions and comments.

In 2005, Di Canio made a fascist salute to Lazio fans while playing for the Rome club. He has previously said he is not a racist but is fascist.

Also, during his previous job as manager of Swindon Town he was subject to an allegation of racism against him, but was cleared by the Football Association.

The Society of Black Lawyers (SBL) is one of the latest groups taking the northeastern club and the FA to task over the former West Ham player’s managerial arrival into the Premier League.

In a letter to the FA, chair of SBL Peter Herbert said: “SBL is seriously concerned that a manager fined by FIFA for making a fascist salute in 2005 is appointed without being asked by the FA or anyone else to make any commitment to anti racism.

“SBL takes the view that any such self serving distinctions lack credibility and does not stand up to any intelligent scrutiny. Fascism has always had racial superiority as one its core beliefs,” the human rights barrister added.

David Neita, a barrister and poet who has taken active role in tackling racism within grassroots football, said: “The FA have to understand that there can be no more dangerous precedent for football than to have a known fascist appointed to a leadership position of a premier league club as if that was only a matter for those interested in politics.

“Fascism and racism are wholly inconsistent with managing a football team. Those that think otherwise are themselves part of the problem.”

Eddie Nestor, a BBC radio presenter, also joined the chorus of disapproval over Di Canio’s move into top flight football.

Writing an opinion in The Voice he called the “union” between Sunderland and the Italian as “ill-fated”.

Nestor asked: “what were his new employers thinking when employing him?”

The controversy of hiring Di Canio gained momentum when David Miliband announced he was to quit his role of vice-chairman at Sunderland because of the choice of new manager.

SALUTE TO FASCISM: Di Canio greets Lazio fans in 2005

The former Foreign Secretary who is standing down as an MP to begin a new job in New York, decided to leave his post at the Premier League side due to Di Canio’s past statements, such as describing Benito Mussolini, the Italian fascist dictator and ally to Adolf Hitler during the Second World War, as “a very principled ethical individual” who was “deeply misunderstood”.

However, Di Canio, who refused to answer questions about his political views in his first press conference, yesterday retracted his previous claim of being a fascist.

In a statement he said: “I am not political, I do not affiliate myself to any organisation.

“I am not a racist. I do not support the ideology of fascism.

“I respect everyone. I am a football man. This and my family are my focus. Now I will speak only of football”, the newly appointed manager added.

Sunderland’s choice of manager was further complicated by the fact that the team is sponsored by Invest In Africa – the company’s logo is printed across the club’s red and white strip.

Due to the nature of Di Canio’s past admiration for Mussolini, who committed atrocities in East Africa against native populations, it has created further embarrassment for the club.

However, the sponsor declined to directly comment on Di Canio when contacted by The Voice.

“The managerial changes at Sunderland AFC at the weekend are a footballing matter for the club, and as such we direct all inquiry regarding this to the club,” a spokesman said.

“Invest in Africa has a one year sponsorship deal with Sunderland AFC with options to renew for the future.

“As a matter of course during this time in the sponsorship term and unrelated to events over the weekend we are currently reviewing our partnership with the club,” they added.

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