Manager 'sorry' over fascism row
Sunderland's new manager Paolo Di Canio has apologised to anyone who has been offended by his comments after David Miliband quit his role at the football club due to the Italian's "past political statements".
Di Canio, who was reported to have said he was a fascist and appeared to give an open-handed salute while playing for Italian side Lazio in 2005, denied he was a racist and said his comments were taken out of context.
In a statement issued jointly by the 44-year-old and his new club, the former West Ham striker said: "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. 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 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."
His comments come after former foreign secretary Mr Miliband quit his role as vice-chairman and non-executive director of the Black Cats following Di Canio's appointment, citing the Italian's "past political statements" as the reason.
Di Canio was responding to media reports that he told Italian news agency Ansa in 2005 "I am a fascist, not a racist", and made what some interpreted as a far right salute at a game in the same year
Mr Miliband, who is also stepping down as an MP, said in a statement on his website: "I wish Sunderland AFC all success in the future. It is a great institution that does a huge amount for the North East and I wish the team very well over the next vital seven games. However, in the light of the new manager's past political statements, I think it right to step down."
Sunderland AFC said comments suggesting their new manager may hold extreme views were "insulting". The club's chief executive 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."
The Durham Miners' Association waded into the row over the appointment. Dave Hopper, general secretary of the association, said he was writing to the football club to demand the return of the Wearmouth Miners' Banner, which is on permanent display at the Stadium of Light, in protest at the decision to appoint Di Canio. Mr Hopper, who worked for 27 years as a miner at Wearmouth Colliery, the site on which the Stadium of Light stands, described Di Canio's appointment as "an outrage". In a statement on the association's website, referring to club chairman Ellis Short, he continued: "Everyone must speak out and oppose this outrage and call on Ellis Short and the Sunderland Board to reverse their decision."