Paolo Di Canio: I am not a fascist or a racist, says Sunderland boss

Di Canio takes first training session

New Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio says he does not hold fascist beliefs.

The 44-year-old Italian's political views have come under intense scrutiny ever since he was named as Martin O'Neill's successor on Sunday.

But in a statement on Wednesday, the former Swindon Town boss attempted to end the controversy.

"I am not political, I do not affiliate myself to any organisation," he said. "I am not a racist. I do not support the ideology of fascism."

He added: "I respect everyone. I am a football man. This and my family are my focus. Now I will speak only of football."

A day after Di Canio was unveiled as Black Cats manager, former foreign secretary David Miliband resigned from the Premier League club's board because of Di Canio's past political statements".

In 2005, while he was a player at Lazio, Di Canio was fined £7,000 and suspended for one game by the Italian authorities after making a fascist salute for the third time that year.

When questioned about the straight-arm gesture by Italian news agency Ansa, he claimed it was aimed at "my people".

Di Canio was also reported to have said he was "a fascist, not a racist", although he has since claimed he was misquoted.

A number of anti-racism campaigners and supporters' groups also expressed anger at Di Canio's appointment as Sunderland boss, calling on him and the club to explain his alleged fascist sympathies.

They included the Durham Miners' Association, who threatened to remove a symbolic banner from Sunderland's stadium in protest.

Di Canio initially refused to answer questions about his political beliefs when he faced the media on Tuesday and described the controversy surrounding his appointment as "ridiculous and pathetic".

Sunderland also insisted claims Di Canio held racist or fascist sympathies were insulting to the "integrity of the club".

However, with no sign of the controversy abating, the Italian chose to issue a statement to explain his stance.

"I have clearly stated that I do not wish to speak about matters other than football," he said. "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.

Di Canio's managerial philosophy

"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."

Following Di Canio's statement, Dave Hopper, general secretary of the Durham Miners' Association, told BBC Sport that he hoped the issue could now be "put to bed".

Di Canio first came to Britain as a player in 1996, when he joined Celtic, and followed his time in Glasgow with spells at Sheffield Wednesday, West Ham and Charlton.

He retired in 2008 after spells with Lazio and former Serie C1 side Cisco Roma. He was handed his first managerial role by Swindon in May 2011, replacing Paul Hart.

In the 21 months he spent at the County Ground, Di Canio led Swindon to promotion via the League Two play-offs, but resigned with the Robins going well in League One after becoming frustrated by off-field issues.

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