SUNDERLAND shirt sponsor Invest in Africa has distanced itself from being drawn into the debate surrounding the controversial appointment of new manager Paolo Di Canio.
Di Canio today refused to answer questions about whether or not he is a fascist at his first press conference at the club, as scrutiny over his political views continues.
The 44-year-old Italian was asked on several occasions if he was a fascist but did not respond.
Sunderland's pioneering shirt sponsorship with Invest In Africa, a not-for-profit business initiative aiming to promote the continent, was launched last June and sits well alongside the new partnership with the Nelson Mandela Foundation, which was celebrated in the build-up to the game against Manchester United on Saturday.
However, the appointment of Di Canio, who has previously said he holds fascist views, looks to be at odds with these two initiatives.
Invest in Africa refused to discuss the effect Di Canio's appointment could have on the sponsorship deal when contacted, but a spokesperson said: "It (Di Canio's position) is a football-related matter and under the remit of the club."
The shirt sponsorship deal is only for a year and runs until the end of the current season, although there is an option to extend it for 2013/14.
It is not known when Invest in Africa will meet to decide whether to renew the sponsorship deal with Sunderland for next year.
The Nelson Mandela Foundation was unavailable to comment on the appointment of Di Canio when contacted today.