No blacks or gays at Zenit, says fan club

St. Petersburg: Zenit St. Petersburg`s top fan club has published a controversial manifesto that attempts to justify a policy against signing black or gay players. The football team has distanced itself from the xenophobic comments.

The team has long attracted criticism as the only top Russian side never to have fielded a black player, though rejects allegations that it is policy.

Now Zenit`s fan club has tried to explain why no black or gay players should ever turn out for the side in a document named "Selection 12".

"We are not racists, but the absence of black players in the Zenit line-up is an important tradition that underlines the identity of the club, and nothing more," said the document, published on the Landscrona website, which unites the fan club`s various affiliates.

The fan club claims this policy allows Zenit to "possess its own face alongside the few football clubs to retain their identity".

"We, as the most northern club of the big European cities, have never shared the mentality of Africa, or South America or Australia and Oceania."

The manifesto then suggests that African players have trouble adapting to Russia`s harsh climate.

"A big part of the championship is played in pretty tough weather. In these conditions it is sometimes difficult for the technical players from warm countries to display their footballing talents to the full degree. We want players close (to us) in spirit and mentality to play for Zenit."

French international Yann M`Vila, whose father hails from Africa, reportedly turned down a summer move from Rennes after receiving death threats from Zenit fans. And ex-CSKA Moscow forward Vagner Love called Zenit "the most racist team in Russia" after he moved to Rio de Janeiro side Flamengo a year ago.

The document - which seems to have appeared sometime within in the past week - also lists "human qualities" the fans want to see in players.

"We are against the inclusion of representatives of sexual minorities in the Zenit team."

St. Petersburg is the centre, both, of a large gay community and a powerful homophobic movement. The city recently passed legislation banning the promotion of homosexuality.

Some of the other "human qualities" the fans promote is interest in the city`s culture and a rejection of smoking and alcohol.

Meanwhile, the club has sought to distance itself from "Selection 12".

"Players get onto our team not by nationalities and skin colour but sporting qualities and achievements," the club said.

"Club policy is aimed at development and integration into the society of world football and does not uphold archaic views."

Coach Luciano Spalletti earlier insisted Zenit is an open and tolerant club.

"I think that Zenit prove in their work that the club understands what tolerance is," Spalletti said in an interview posted on the club`s website.

IANS/RIA Novosti

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