Sunderland & Di Canio hit out at racism accusations

The 44-year-old Italian has taken over the reins at the Wearside club, but his political views have already seen former Foreign Secretary David Milliband resign as vice-chairman
Sunderland have rejected accusations that new manager Paolo Di Canio is a rascist after concerns were raised over his appointment.

The 44-year-old was handed a two-and-a-half-year deal to replace Martin O'Neill who was sacked after the club's 1-0 home defeat to Manchester United on Saturday, a result which leaves the side just one point above the relegation zone.

However, Football Against Racism in Europe director Piara Powar has expressed his alarm at the appointment of Di Canio, given that the Italian has previously described himself as a fascist, leading Sunderland to respond with a statement backing their new boss.

Sunderland & Paolo Di Canio's statement in full:

Sunderland AFC and Head Coach Paolo Di Canio have issued the following statement in response to comments made by certain sections of the media and other individuals since his appointment was announced yesterday.

Paolo spoke passionately and honestly regarding the inaccurate portrayal of his beliefs and values from some quarters. He 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.

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"I don’t have a problem with anyone. I haven’t had a problem in the past and I don’t 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. 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.

"I don’t want to talk about politics because it’s not my area. We are not in the Houses of Parliament, we are in a football club. I want to talk about sport. I want to talk about football, my players, the Board and the fans. My first priority is my family and my daughters, that’s obvious, and secondly to have the responsibility for thousands of people. This is my priority and I want to be focused on this aspect. I don’t want to talk any more about politics – I am not a politics person."

CEO Margaret Byrne said: "Sunderland AFC is a traditional football club, with a rich and proud history. It has a strong ethos and ethics and that has not changed in any shape or form.

"Naturally it’s been very disappointing to read some of the reaction to Paolo’s appointment in the last 24 hours. Anyone who has met Paolo and spoken with him personally, as we did in depth before making this appointment, will know that he is an honest man, a man of principle and a driven, determined and passionate individual. 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.

"Paolo has spoken emotively and at length in order to clarify some of the misconceptions that surround him and historical comments and actions attributed to him in the past.

"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.

"We are a football club and now want to allow Paolo and the team to focus on the rest of the season."

Neither Sunderland AFC, nor Paolo Di Canio, will make any further comment on this matter.