Zenit race row as fans demand all-white, non-gay team
Russian supporters say lack of black players is 'important tradition' and attack Arsenal
THE FANS of Zenit St Petersburg, the champions of 2018 World Cup hosts Russia, have demanded that the club fields an all-white, heterosexual team in order "to maintain the national identity of the club".
The team's largest supporters club, Landscrona, made the demand in an open letter on its website entitled "Selection Manifesto 12", in which they also took a swipe at English clubs Arsenal and Manchester City who, they said, "buy packs of players from around the world and no longer represent a region or city".
The letter stated: "We are not racists but we see the absence of black players at Zenit as an important tradition.
"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 club has been embroiled in turmoil this season after Brazil striker Hulk and mixed-race Belgian midfielder Alex Witsel arrived in the summer, prompting disquiet among other squad members. French international Yann M'Vila reportedly chose not to sign after receiving death threats.
"Zenit have been the only top club in Russia to have never signed an African player while the northern city of St Petersburg is known to have a strong right-wing nationalist influence," noted The Guardian.
The Daily Mail described the letter as "another sign of the racism which [is] plaguing the country that will host the World Cup in 2018".
The letter also stated that players from "sexual minorities" would be unwelcome, as would "football crooks [who are] constantly changing clubs" while there was no room for those who have "publicly demonstrated their addiction to alcohol or cigarettes".
Zenit's Italian coach Luciano Spalletti tried to distance himself and the club from the letter. According to The Independent he told the club website: "Tolerance for me is the ability to understand and accept differences. Furthermore, being tolerant means that you fight against any kind of stupidity."
The supporters group accused the media of misrepresenting their letter. In a second statement the group said they did not see players from outside Europe as taboo, but said Zenit should only "turn their gaze to distant countries" if there was no-one from the surrounding region available.