The former British foreign secretary has resigned from the board of a soccer team after it hired an Italian manager who boasted of his fascist sympathies — and once made a Nazi salute during a match.
David Miliband stepped down from Sunderland’s board because of remarks that Paolo Di Canio made to Italian news agency ANSA in 2005 when he said: “I am a fascist, not a racist”.
“I was prepared for the interest, not because it is Paolo Di Canio but because of the change at the club,” the Italian told a news conference in an effort to steer talk away from politics and back to football.
Miliband, who is Jewish, left politics after losing out to his brother, Ed, in an unusual all-in-the-family battle for the head of Britain’s main opposition Labour Party.
“I wish Sunderland AFC all success in the future,” Miliband said. “However, in the light of the new manager’s past political statements, I think it right to step down.”
Miliband has taken a job in New York as head of the International Rescue Committee, an international humanitarian aid organization.
Defeat to Manchester United on Saturday prompted Sunderland to oust Martin O’Neill.
In 16th place in the table and without a win in eight games, they have only seven matches remaining to pull away from danger but Di Canio was confident.
“When I got the call from (chairman) Ellis Short, I felt fire in my belly. I would have swam to Sunderland to take the job,” he added.
“The press like to call me the mad Italian, but I would confidently bet everything I have on Sunderland remaining in the top flight.”
Di Canio enjoyed a colourful playing career with clubs including Juventus, AC Milan, Lazio, West Ham United and Celtic, but has never managed in the top flight and joins Sunderland six weeks after quitting Swindon.
Never far from the headlines, he is remembered for pushing over a referee while playing for Sheffield Wednesday in England and drew outrage in 2005 when he celebrated his Lazio side’s derby win over AS Roma with a fascist-style salute.