THE largest fan group of Russian football champions Zenit St Petersburg have demanded the club refrain from buying black and gay players following turmoil surrounding the acquisition of Brazilian striker Hulk.
Landscrona, the largest Zenit supporters club, released a manifesto yesterday demanding that the club field an all-white, heterosexual team.
It added that “dark-skinned players are all but forced down Zenit’s throat now, which only brings out a negative reaction” and said gay players were “unworthy of our great city”.
The fans said they want more home-grown or European players in the team.
The letter said: “We only want players from other brotherly Slav nations, such as Ukraine and Belarus as well as from the Baltic states and Scandinavia. We have the same mentality and historical and cultural background as these nations.”
The letter also expressed opposition to having “sexual minorities” in the team.
The club, which is owned by state-controlled natural gas giant Gazprom, told the R-Sport news agency it supported tolerance and picked players on athletic ability alone, insisting that “the team’s policy is aimed at development and integration into the world football community, and holds no archaic views”.
Zenit were the only top-flight Russian team never to have signed a black player until this summer, when the club acquired Brazilian striker Hulk and Belgian midfielder Axel Witsel from Porto and Benfica respectively for a combined price equivalent to £64 million. However, French midfielder Yann M’Vila declined a move to the club in August after receiving death threats.
Fans insisted: “We are not racists and for us the absence of black Zenit players is just an important tradition that underlines the team’s identity.”
Russia has struggled to deal with racism and violence at its stadiums as it prepares to host the World Cup in 2018. Black players are frequently the targets of monkey chants and some, including FC Anzhi Makhachkala’s Roberto Carlos and Christopher Samba, have had bananas thrown at them by fans.
Officials have at times shown little enthusiasm for targeting racism. When Lokomotiv Moscow fans held up a banner in 2010 thanking English team West Bromwich Albion for signing their Russian-born black striker Peter Odemwingie with a picture of a banana, the head of Russia’s World Cup bid awkwardly claimed they were referencing a quaint, little-used Russian expression meaning “to fail an exam”.
Zenit’s fans have long been the country’s most problematic. Dick Advocaat, the team’s Dutch former manager who also managed Rangers from 1998-2002, once admitted that the Russian team’s fans “don’t like black players” and it would be “impossible” for Zenit to sign one.
Several black players have also singled out Zenit’s fans as particularly racist. Brazilian Vagner Love – Russia’s top scorer in 2008 during a stint at CSKA Moscow – told a Brazilian newspaper in April that Zenit were “the most racist team in Russia” and the only one whose fans had abused him in his seven years playing in the country.
Five years earlier, Krylya Sovetov Samara’s former Cameroon international Serge Branco told a local newspaper that Zenit’s management were “the real racists” for not combating the problem, adding that “in a civilised country they’d smack them down to the third division for their fans’ behaviour”.