A week has gone, and a lot has happened since the news broke. This was from the official club statement, sent out as if by a cruel joke on April 1st:
“I don’t want to talk about politics because it’s not my area. We are not in the Houses of Parliament, we are in a football club. I want to talk about sport. I want to talk about football, my players, the Board and the fans. My first priority is my family and my daughters, that’s obvious, and secondly to have the responsibility for thousands of people. This is my priority and I want to be focused on this aspect. I don’t want to talk any more about politics – I am not a politics person.”
I'm glad he is a family man, but he cannot say he is not a political person with any credibility. Di Canio brought politics into football when he twice decided to give a fascist salute in front of millions of people. It was no accident. In his official biography he describes himself as a fascist (not a racist, he has black friends) and someone who admires Mussolini. It takes a lot belief to have 'Duce' (or 'Fuhrer') tattooed on your body.
It took the open letter by the son of a victim of fascism, the Dean of Durham Michael Sadgrove, to force a further statement saying that Di Canio does not now support any fascist ideology.
If this is true, then that is wonderful, as repentance and forgiveness are part of the human journey. But repentance cannot mean pretending it is not an issue, and that politics and sport are somehow separate. It is a similar mistake made by those who say that politics and religion are separate. Try telling that to the Roman soldiers who nailed Jesus to the cross.
But Di Canio is now here, and I blame the club owners for such a mess, an own goal more horrific than the one against Chelsea yesterday. I desperately want Sunderland to stay up, but not at the cost of seeing thousands of young people in this city begin to idolise a fascist. Di Canio must make amends for his wayward past by actively joining in the struggles against fascism and racism in our own city.
He cannot separate his past from his present, he must own up to his mistakes and demonstrate his repentance on and off the pitch. It is not just by his football results that the character of a person can be judged.