It’s a well- known fact: tell someone there is one subject they are not allowed to talk about and, well, obviously, it’s the ONLY thing they want to talk about. Think of Basil Fawlty desperately trying not to mention the war in the classic TV comedy; admittedly John Cleese goose-stepping around the hotel dining room raising a fascist salute to the visiting German guests did take things to extremes and it must be remembered that the fictitious character was suffering from concussion at the time and was therefore not fully answerable for his actions.
It is unclear exactly what influenced Paolo Di Canio, recently appointed head coach at Sunderland Football Club, to state in his autobiography that Benito Mussolini was ‘a very principled, ethical individual’ who was ‘deeply misunderstood’ and that he himself was a ‘fascist, not a racist’ in 2005. Whatever the reason, and he made it clear that he is unwilling to talk about it or the views which were supposedly taken out of context from an interview twenty-one months ago, reports about his political leanings have caused quite a stir.
Anti-racist groups have asked for clarification of his comments in support of fascism, the Durham Miners Association asked for its banner to be removed from inside the Stadium of Light (although this has since been resolved) and David Miliband resigned from the club’s board over ‘past political statements’ made by Di Canio. The fact that the coach also talked of a developing interest in Samurai culture and Japanese spiritual mentality does not seem to have had the same impact, but then the journalists were never asked not to mention it.
When the management of Sunderland Football Club sent out a polite email on Tuesday evening informing journalists that the new head coach would be available for a ‘brief introductory media opportunity’, it was perhaps naively optimistic to ask representatives of the British press to limit their questions to those relating to the beautiful game. And of course, they didn’t. Attempting to bypass the subject inevitably ended up with the press conference being hijacked. Di Canio came to the realisation that the topic was unlikely to go away unless it was brought out into the air and soon took the opportunity on Wednesday afternoon to clarify his views.
On Twitter he issued a brief statement defending Sunderland Club with a passion and stated, “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.” Will that simple recantation be enough to hold back the huge swell of curiosity in the man’s political ideology? Possibly not. But at least he can move on to coaching the players and ensuring that Sunderland can avoid relegation. If he can pull that one off, his interest in Samurai culture need never be mentioned again.