Russian football club declines “stupid” fan club request to avoid gay or black players

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The director of sports at a Russian football club has declined the request of its largest fan club to discriminate against gay and black players.

Yesterday, the largest fan club of FC Zenit Saint Petersburg, Landscrona, published a manifesto that attempted to justify a policy of discriminating against black and gay players. The document named Selection 12, the group said:

“We are not racists, but the absence of black players in the Zenit lineup is an important tradition that underlines the identity of the club, and nothing more.”

On the issue of fielding gay players, it said: “We are against the inclusion of representatives of sexual minorities in the Zenit team.”

Luciano Spalletti, the club’s head coach dismissed the request as “stupidity”, and said the team aimed for tolerance and acceptance.

Director or sports at Zenit, Dietmar Beiersdorfer, has responded, saying that the club would not bow to pressure from the fan club to select only straight, white players for the club, reports the Guardian. He said:

“We make our player selections without any limitation regarding origin, religion or skin colour”.

He continued: “Our club’s goal is to win the Russian championship and to be highly competitive in international competitions as well,” he said. “We have absolutely no policy in Zenit of limiting our player selection in any superficial way.”

The club had previously released a statement, distancing itself from Selection 12, which said:

“Players get into our team not by nationalities and skin color but sporting qualities and achievements…

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

When he was asked to personally define the word “tolerance”, Coach Spalletti answered: “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 also promised that the club would support local initiatives to combat xenophobia and racism.

“The club will support such initiatives and use every opportunity to contribute to this work,” he said. “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.

“I think that Zenit has proven through its work that the club understands what tolerance is, and what it means to have tolerant behaviour. The team has gathered players from different countries and ethnic groups who work together to achieve a common goal, and work well. Their combined efforts bring tangible results. We’ve all worked together to achieve important results.”

FC Zenit, described by one Russian footballer as one of the most racist football clubs in Russia, is based in the same city that passed a notorious anti-gay censorship law earlier this year.

The club was Russia’s only top-flight football team without a black player, until this summer. 

Last week, Lady Gaga became the latest US pop star to clash with the law after she was accused of speaking out in favour of LGBT rights at a concert in St Petersburg.