Paolo Di Canio denies racism claim

Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio and his new employers strongly rebutted suggestions he is racist after a club executive quit in protest at his appointment citing past support of fascism.

Former British Foreign Secretary David Miliband quit as Sunderland vice chairman just as Di Canio was hired on Sunday citing ”the new manager’s past political statements.”

Di Canio was fined and condemned by FIFA in 2005 for performing a straight-arm salute, adopted by the Italian Fascist regime in the early 20th century, and saying: ”I am a fascist, not a racist.”

But amid mounting pressure from anti-racism groups, American-owned Sunderland gave its full backing to Di Canio, dismissing the criticism as ”insulting.”

”Talk about racism? That is absolutely stupid, stupid and ridiculous,” Di Canio said in a statement e-mailed sent to The Associated Press. ”The people who know me can change that idea quickly.”

The Italian said the comments that led to Miliband’s resignation were from an interview ”many years ago” and said his ”expression (was taken) in a very, very negative way.”

”What I can say is that if someone is hurt, I am sorry,” Di Canio said. ”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 don’t have a problem with anyone. I haven’t had a problem in the past.”

Sunderland chief executive Margaret Byrne said the club was satisfied with Di Canio’s explanation, saying it is ”disappointing that some people are trying to turn the appointment of a head coach into a political circus.”

”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,” Byrne said. ”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.”