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Sunderland close to new sponsor

Sunderland are close to announcing a new sponsorship partner to replace Invest in Africa on the club's shirt.

• Blog: The day an American shared Sunderland joy in Newcastle

The club are desperately fighting against relegation from the Premier League and recently parted company with manager Martin O'Neill in a bid to end a winless run of games.

Replacing the veteran manager with Paolo Di Canio, the 44-year-old was put under intense scrutiny over his political views and alleged links to fascism.

Forced to release a statement clarifying his views, the club's current partner Invest in Africa revealed it was reviewing its 2-year deal, but not as a consequence of Di Canio's appointment.

Speaking earlier this week, group marketing director Mike Farnan confirmed that the club would be seeking a new shirt sponsor but denied that the decision was in any way linked to reports of questionable business practice by Tullow Oil - one of the three companies behind the Invest in Africa initiative.

"The reality is it was a two-year deal with a year's break clause," Farnan told Bloomberg.com in a telephone interview. "What's happening is we will be announcing a major African conglomerate with 188,000 employees as a sponsor and Invest in Africa will continue supporting us. We're hoping to announce it soon. The focus now is on making sure we secure our Premier League status.

"Africa is part of our long-term strategy, we're not pulling out. We don't listen to all the rubbish that's being written. We just decided it would be good to be working with a consumer-facing brand."

The move follows a concerted effort by the Black Cats to raise their profile in Africa. Prior to the game against Manchester United the club announced a partnership with the Nelson Mandela foundation, as well as already holding a number of links with clubs based on the continent.

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