Di Canio’s appointment on Sunday prompted former foreign secretary David Miliband to resign from the Sunderland board in protest, the Italian having been quoted as saying in 2005: “I am a fascist, not a racist.”
The former Swindon manager and West Ham player was urged to deny fascism by equality campaigners Kick It Out on Tuesday, after he refused to field questions on his beliefs during his first press conference.
But yesterday he said: “I am not political, I do not affiliate myself to any organisation, I am not a racist and I do not support the ideology of fascism. I respect everyone.”
Di Canio’s statement will be seen as an attempt to end days of negative coverage of him and the club since he was appointed successor to Martin O’Neill, and with a high-profile first match at Chelsea on Sunday.
The Very Reverend Michael Sadgrove, the Dean of Durham and a Sunderland fan, added to pressure on Di Canio yesterday by writing an open letter.
He said: “Unless you clearly renounce fascism in all its manifestations, you will be associated with these toxic far-right tendencies we have seen too much of in this region.”
The statement also appears to contradict his now infamous 2005 interview with an Italian news agency. He has suggested previous remarks were taken out of context or misquoted.
The 44-year-old also referred to Mussolini in his autobiography as “basically a very principled individual”, and was banned for one game and fined in 2005 for repeatedly making a fascist salute.
“I am an honest man, my values and principles come from my family and my upbringing,” he added. “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.”
TIMELINE OF A STORM
■ Saturday: Sunderland sack Martin O’Neill and appoint Paolo Di Canio
■ Sunday: David Miliband steps down from club’s board, citing Di Canio’s “past political statements”
■ Monday: Club call fascism claims “insulting”, while Di Canio labels racism talk “stupid and ridiculous”
■ Tuesday: Di Canio refuses to answer questions about fascist views at his first press conference; stance criticised by equality group Kick It Out
■ Wednesday: Di Canio says he “does not support ideology of fascism”