Letter from Margaret Byrne to a fan.
First of all I am very concerned to hear about the abuse which you have received. That is totally unacceptable and I strongly believe that all sides in this debate should proceed with it lawfully and civilly. On the basis of what you say it seems to us that reporting the abuse to the police would be a prudent step.
As regards the ‘moral duties’ to which you refer our position is as follows:
We consider that all people have the right to hold and express opinions (provided of course that the expression of those opinions is not abusive). We also believe that those expressing opinions should seek to understand the facts to which those opinions relate and also the position taken by others in the debate. In respect of Paolo we do believe that if those concerned understood the true position, that he is neither a fascist nor a racist, they would not be distressed by this appointment.
As articulated in our Equality Policy - http://www.safc.com/the-club/about-us/equal-opportunities - the Club considers that all aspects of equality, including anti-racism, are very important. However, beyond this, we do not believe that it is a role of a football club to take a leading position to oppose a particular creed. Of course that does not mean that we should be indifferent to political matters or to political views expressed by anyone engaged by the club. However, no-one has identified to us any matter relating to Paolo (based on facts) which would call into question his position with the club (bearing in mind the accusation that he is a fascist is not in fact correct). My role and that of the Board is to act in the best interests of the Club at all times and we believe that by appointing Paolo we have done exactly that.
We deplore any abuse of social media and message boards. However we cannot accept a general responsibility to police the activities of our fans on the internet.
We are in no doubt that people can properly support Sunderland AFC while still opposing this – or indeed any other – appointment. However we do hope that whatever the differences on this issue our fans will get behind the team for the season run-in.
I hope this addresses your points. We are acutely aware of the issues which the appointment of Paolo has raised but believe that the concerns which have arisen have been based on misunderstandings.