David Miliband on Sunday resigned from the board of Sunderland football club, citing the "past political statements" of the new manager, Paolo Di Canio, who has previously described himself as a fascist and also referred to Benito Mussolini as "a deeply misunderstood individual".
The former foreign secretary, who is stepping down as an MP but had previously said he would continue in his role at Sunderland, made the announcement at around the time Di Canio's appointment as the club's manager was being confirmed publicly.
Di Canio was quickly appointed head coach at the struggling Premier League club on a two-and-a-half-year deal after his predecessor, Martin O'Neill, was sacked on Saturday.
In a statement posted on his website Miliband said: "I wish Sunderland AFC all success in the future. It is a great institution that does a huge amount for the north-east, and I wish the team very well over the next vital seven games. However, in the light of the new manager's past political statements, I think it right to step down."
The politician had been serving as vice-chairman and a non-executive director at Sunderland, whose board he joined in 2011 after losing out on the Labour leadership to his brother, Ed. He confirmed last week he was quitting as MP for South Shields to become CEO of the International Rescue Committee in New York, as he sought to end the "soap opera" surrounding his relationship with his brother.
It is not the first time Di Canio's political views have led to controversy and break-ups at clubs he has worked with.
The GMB trade union also cited his political views when it withdrew its sponsorship of Swindon Town after he was appointed its manager in 2011. The former Italian international, whose club career has included stints at Juventus, Napoli, AC Milan, Lazio, Glasgow Celtic, Charlton Athletic, West Ham and Sheffield Wednesday, has spoken openly in the past about his far-right leanings.
In 2005 he told the Italian news agency Ansa: "I am a fascist, not a racist." He has been pictured giving a straight-arm salute in front of fans of the Rome club Lazio, which has a strong following among the far right.
In his autobiography, he wrote of the Italian dictator Mussolini: "His actions were often vile. But all this was motivated by a higher purpose. He was basically a very principled individual."
He has also courted controversy for his actions as a player, including when he pushed a referee to the ground in 1998 after being sent off in a match between Sheffield Wednesday and Arsenal. However, some praised him for his conduct as a West Ham player when he picked up the ball during a match with Everton after the opposition's goalkeeper lay injured. He was awarded Fifa's fair play award in 2001 in recognition of his "special act of good sportsmanship".
Sunderland's chairman, Ellis Short, endorsed Di Canio as the manager, who he believes can prevent the club from being relegated from the Premier League.
"Paolo is hugely enthused by the challenge that lies ahead of him. He is passionate, driven and raring to get started," Short said in a statement on the club's official website.
Miliband's announcement on Sunday was praised by many, including Labour MP Stella Creasy, who said on Twitter that his decision to part company with Sunderland was "all the more powerful" given how much the role meant to him. However, the commentator andformer footballer Stan Collymore tweeted: "Faux outrage as always on twitter. No Italian ex footballer every called me N*****. Just plenty from the wonderful UK shires."
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