04/01/2013 12:48 EDT | Updated 06/01/2013 05:12 EDT

Paolo Di Canio defends himself against racism claims as Sunderland backs new manager

LONDON - Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio and team executives have strongly rebutted suggestions he is a racist after a club official quit in protest of the Italian's past support of fascism.

Former British Foreign Secretary David Miliband quit as Sunderland vice chairman soon after Di Canio was hired Sunday, citing "the new manager's past political statements."

But Sunderland indirectly accused Miliband of creating a "political circus" since Di Canio succeeded the fired Martin O'Neill, and dismissed the criticism as "insulting."

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."

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