Politics

Zenit Soccer Fans Demand All-White, Heterosexual Team

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Russian soccer team Zenit St. Petersburg faces issues with racist and homophobic fans as one of its supporter clubs, Landscrona, called for the exclusion of non-white and gay players. 

According to USA Today, the largest Zenit supporters' club released a manifesto on Monday that demanded an all-white, heterosexual team. It also stated that "dark-skinned players are all but forced down Zenit's throat now, which only brings out a negative reaction" and that gay players were "unworthy of our great city."

Zenit's head coach, Luciano Spalletti, assured fans that they aim for a diverse and tolerant team. He wrote on the club's website that "tolerance for me is most of all the ability to understand and accept differences."

He insisted that "the team's policy is aimed at development and integration into the world soccer community, and holds no archaic views."

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The team just acquired its first black player this summer when it signed Belgian midfielder Axel Witsel for 80 million euros. It also acquired Brazilian striker Hulk. 

Spalletti believes the club "understands what tolerance is, and what it means to have tolerant behavior" as it has "gathered players from different countries and ethnic groups who work together to achieve a common goal, and work well."

Fans believe their call for an all-white team is not indicative of racism, but is simply an "important tradition that underlines the team's identity and nothing more."

This is not the first time Russia has struggled with racism and violence as it prepares to host the 2018 World Cup. 

At the games, black players are frequently made targets for racist acts, such as monkey chants. Black players Robert Carlos and Christopher Samba have also had bananas thrown at them.

The country's officials have shown little effort in targeting racism. After Lokomotiv Moscow fans held a sign thanking another team for signing their black striker, with a picture of a banana, the head of Russians World Cup claimed they were referencing a quaint Russian expression meaning "to fail an exam."

Of all Russian teams, Zenit's fans cause the most problems. Its former manager, Dick Advocaat, said their "fans don't like black players" and it would be "impossible" to sign one. 

Vagner Love, former Russian top scorer, said that Zenit was the "most racist team in Russia" and explained that, in his seven years of playing, he had only experienced abuse by Zenit fans. 

Krylya Sovetov Samara's former Cameroon International, Serge Branco, told a newspaper that the real problem lies with the team's management as they repeatedly fail to address the problem. 

As things get more violent, other officials are stepping in to make changes.

After a violent incident at one of Zenit's games where a fan threw a firecracker at Dinamo Moscow's goalkeeper, the Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev called for violent spectators to be banned for life.