Zenit fans demand all-white, non-gay team

Fans of two-time defending Russian champion Zenit St. Petersburg

are calling for non-white and gay players to be excluded from the

team.

Landscrona, the largest Zenit fan club, released a manifesto

Monday demanding 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 club quickly sought to distance itself from the fans.

Without directly referring to their manifesto, Zenit’s head coach,

Luciano Spalletti, said in remarks posted on the club’s website

that ”tolerance for me is most of all the ability to understand

and accept differences.”

”Furthermore, being tolerant means that you fight against any

kind of stupidity,” he added.

The club, which is owned by state-controlled natural gas giant

Gazprom, also told the R-Sport news agency it picked players on

athletic ability alone, insisting that ”the team’s policy is aimed

at development and integration into the world soccer 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 it acquired Brazilian

striker Hulk and Belgian midfielder Axel Witsel for 80 million

euros ($105 million). French midfielder Yann M’Vila declined a move

to the club in August after receiving death threats.

”I can personally assure you that I will do everything I can to

help those who seek to explain to people what tolerance is, and the

need to respect other cultures and traditions,” Spalletti said.

”I think that Zenit has proven through its work that the club

understands what tolerance is, and what it means to have tolerant

behavior. The team has gathered players from different countries

and ethnic groups who work together to achieve a common goal, and

work well.”

The fan club insisted that ”we are not racists and for us the

absence of black Zenit players is just an important tradition that

underlines the team’s identity and nothing more.”

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 Anzhi Makhachkala’s Robert 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 an English team for signing their 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 former Dutch manager, once admitted that ”the

fans don’t like black players” and that it would be ”impossible”

for Zenit to sign one.

Several black players have also singled out Zenit’s fans as

particularly racist. Former Russian top scorer Vagner Love told a

Brazilian newspaper in April that Zenit is ”the most racist team

in Russia” and the only one whose fans had abused him in his seven

years playing for CSKA Moscow.

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 combatting the

problem, adding that ”in a civilized country they’d smack them

down to the third division for their fans’ behavior.”

Zenit’s fans have also come under the spotlight recently after

one of them threw a firecracker that injured Dinamo Moscow’s

goalkeeper during a match in November. Prime Minister Dmitry

Medvedev, himself a Zenit fan, called for violent spectators to be

banned for life from attending matches. Parliament has drafted a

bill that would ban hooligans for a year.