Why call Di Canio a fascist and not Clough homophobic?

Leela Prasad

Gabrielle Marcotti, journalist and broadcaster, has spent the last 24 hours on Twitter, fiercely defending Paolo Di Canio’s political views. On any given Sunday, Di Canio’s appointment as the new manager of Sunderland FC would not have raised such a furore. But David Miliband, a Labour party MP from South Shields stepped down from his position of non-executive vice-chairman at the club because of “the new manager’s past political statements”.

If not for Miliband’s statement about Di Canio, the English press would have probably picked another angle for this story. Perhaps, about his inexperience as a manager, and rounded off the article with a brief mention of his past. Like when he was appointed as the manager at Swindon Town.

Miliband, knowingly or unknowingly, thrust Di Canio into the limelight. There is so much spin on this news that it is turning into a political story. And Miliband was put on a pedestal. What fans need to realise is that they need Di Canio, not Miliband, to save Sunderland from relegation. The role of a non-executive vice-chairman at Sunderland is moot. Clearly, a non-executive vice-chairman does not influence the team as much as a manager does on the pitch.

Miliband is set to resign as an MP too, and move to New York, to take charge as president and chief executive of the International Rescue Committee. So he would have stepped down from his position at Sunderland, in the future if not now, regardless of Di Canio’s appointment.

It is fair to raise the question whether Miliband would have left Sunderland if he had not been appointed as president and chief executive of the IRC. Because, the IRC was founded by Albert Einstein to aid those who escaped from the racial persecution by Adolf Hiltler. And, later on, they extended their help to those who suffered similar fate under fascist dictators like Benito Mussolini and Francisco Franco.

Paolo Di Canio, on the other hand, is a self-confessed fascist, and had even tattooed Mussolini’s title -  Il Duce - as a tribute to the leader. If all this was not enough, to get his point across, he made a “Roman Salute” in front of the Lazio fans during a Serie A match. Hence, if Miliband stayed on as the non-executive vice-chairman, it would have been a conflict of interest for his role at IRC. No politician would risk bad press, especially Miliband, who is brother of the leader of the opposition in the House of Commons. It is not like he is losing money by quitting from the post. It is a non-executive role, which means he is not on Sunderland’s payroll, because an MP cannot hold an office of profit.

It is not only a matter of conflict of interest, it is a conflict of his party’s principles. Similarly, when Di Canio was at Swindon Town, GSM withdrew its sponsorship citing Di Canio’s past actions. Outside football, GSM donates large sums of money to the Labour party’s fund.

Marcotti, on Twitter, has been patiently trying to clarify that Di Canio is not a Neo-Nazi. According to him, the “Roman salute” was made in a different context. Marcotti may not be the best man to testify Di Canio’s character without being partial; after all, he has ghost written Di Canio’s autobiography. “I am fascinated by Mussolini,” Di Canio wrote. “I think he was a deeply misunderstood individual. He deceived people. His actions were often vile. But all this was motivated by a higher purpose. He was basically a very principled individual. Yet he turned against his sense of right and wrong. He compromised his ethics.”

Dan Hodges, a Telegraph commentator who has worked at the Labour party and GSM, suggests fans should boycott Sunderland because Di Canio is a fascist. I couldn’t find a similar outburst, in the Telegraph, to boycott Nottingham Forest, when Brian Clough banned Justin Fashanu from training with the rest of the team because he was gay. He was pushed out of the club, and had to endure homophobic comments from Clough during his time at Nottingham. However, the legendary Clough is never remembered as a homophobe. Fans do not weigh his success on the field against his personal views. In all fairness to Clough, that was the 80s, and he has mellowed since then. He said to the Observer in 2003 that his reaction to Fashanu’s revelation about his sexuality was one of his great regrets.

Brian Clough never faced a similar outburst despite his homophobic comments

Di Canio’s controversial autobiography was published 12 years ago, and it has been seven years since he made his infamous Roman salute. Sunderland are now two places above the  relegation zone; with just seven league games left for Sunderland to play this season, they need a man like Di Canio, who had the temerity to tell Fabio Capello to go f*** himself.

Edited by Staff Editor
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