We’re not racist, say the club whose manager claims: The fans won't let me sign a black player


Last updated at 10:43 12 May 2008

Wednesday's night's UEFA Cup final in

Manchester is in danger of being

overshadowed by a race row after Dick

Advocaat, the respected Dutch

manager of Russian side Zenit St

Petersburg, claimed that his club do

not sign black players because their

fans would not accept it.

Advocaat made his allegation in an

interview with a Russian magazine

as his team prepared for their final

against Rangers in the City of

Manchester Stadium.

Dick Advocaat

Zenit coach Dick Advocaat says Rangers shouldn't change their style of play for the UEFA Cup final

Advocaat said: 'I would be happy to

sign anyone, but the fans don't like

black players. Quite honestly, I do not

understand how they could pay so

much attention to skin colour. For me

there's no difference between white,

black or red. But they care.'

Zenit, who are run by Russian oligarch

Alexander Dyukov, the head of

oil company Gazprom, deny having

an all-white policy and point to the

presence in their first-team squad of

different nationalities and religions.

The only non-white faces, though, are

two South Koreans.

Now Zenit have been accused by

Lord Ousley, chairman of the Kick It

Out campaign, the Football Association's

anti-racism pressure group, of

hiding behind their fans' views.

Lord Ousley said: 'The problem

with a lot of “eastern bloc” football

clubs is that they are complicit with

racism by hiding behind what fans

say they want. It's damaging to a

European competition if a club is

being restricted in this way.

'A lot of club chairmen in England

in the 1970s and 1980s would have

said that their fans didn't want black

players and would boo them. But

clubs have to be brave. You can

change the culture, say that you're

going to sign the best players,

regardless of race. If clubs aren't prepared to do that, they are being

complicit with racism.'

The arrival of the Zenit team this

week will coincide with Prime Minister

Gordon Brown hosting an event

for another campaign group, Show

Racism the Red Card, which works

alongside Ousley in fighting racism

in football.

UEFA expect 10, 000 Zenit fans to

make the journey to Manchester and

an FA spokesman said: 'We would

expect fans attending any game —

whether or not an English team is

involved — in this country to respect

players from every culture.'

Whether Rangers' black players

receive such respect remains to be

seen. But, according to Advocaat,

Zenit's fans will not accept the sort

of talented players he wants to sign if

they are 'dark-skinned'. Advocaat,

who has worked with black players

during a coaching career that has

included four years at Rangers and

two periods as the coach of the Dutch

national team, said: 'The fans are the

most important thing that Zenit have.

That's why I have to ask them outright

how they'll react if we sign a

dark-skinned player.

'Frankly, the only players who can

make Zenit stronger are darkskinned.

Look at the Brazilians who

play for CSKA Moscow, for example.

But for us it would be impossible. If

they don't agree with me, I will not

do it. I don't want to buy a player who

won't be accepted by the fans.'

Despite Wednesday's high-profile

occasion, UEFA, the governing body

of the European game, say they will

not investigate Advocaat's claims

because they insist the interview has

been misconstrued.

William Gaillard, special advisor to

UEFA president Michel Platini,

admitted that his organisation had

had no direct contact with Zenit but

added: 'This is not an issue we are tackling at this stage. We understand

there was a mistake in the translation

of the interview.'

However, that suggestion has been

rejected by the journalist who conducted

the interview for Pro Sport magazine.

'We spoke in English and I

have a recording of the interview,'

said Yuri Doud yesterday.

'Advocaat was the first to say there

was a problem, but we all know it is

there at Zenit.'

Jonathan Wilson, an

expert on Russian football

and author of the book

Behind The Curtain — Travels

in Eastern European

Football, says that 'uniquely

among Russia's top clubs, Zenit have

never fielded a black player'.

Wilson accepts that Zenit have

made steps to counter racism and

have an official policy of equal

opportunity, but he insists that their

fans reflect the reputation St Petersburg

has as one of Russia's most far right cities.

'While the club condemns the racism of some of

their fans, they take pride in how

Russian their team is,' said Wilson.

'Seven of the likely starting 11 in

Wednesday's final, including their

two real stars, Andrei Arshavin and

Konstantin Zyryanov, are Russian.

By contrast, when CSKA won the

UEFA Cup in 2005, they had six

Russians in their line-up but their two

most prominent players were Vagner

Love and Daniel Carvalho, who are


The failure to crack down on Zenit's

racist fan culture may already have

had fatal consequences. On the night

Zenit faced Olympique Marseille in

the UEFA Cup quarter-finals, Ghanaian

university student Justice Adjei,

20, was stabbed 36 times by a gang

of white youths.

'They attacked to kill but the victim

survived,' said Aliou Tunkara, the

president of St Petersburg's Africa

Union. 'Every time Zenit play a team

involving blacks, racial attacks in the

stadium turn into violence on the


The attack took place before kick-off and no direct link has been

established to the club's supporters.

But another African student, Maira

Mkamam, was stabbed six times

in the chest and stomach last

November on the night that Zenit won

the Russian championship as fans celebrated

throughout the city.

UEFA's disciplinary commission are

currently considering allegations by

Olympique Marseille of racist abuse

directed at their black players by Zenit


Marseille's president, Pape Diouf,

said: 'All the witnesses agree there were

acts of racism against some of our players.

My first feeling is contempt. We

will use all our means to defend our

players. I feel disgusted.'

A Zenit statement after the

Marseille game rejected suggestions

that the club were institutionally racist.

The club and players have taken part

in programmes designed to fight racism

and Zenit have displayed an anti-racist

banner at their stadium this season.

They also condemned fans who racially

abused Brazilian Antonio Geder, the captain of Russian club Saturn, in

March 2006. But the city of St Petersburg

has a reputation for racist attacks.

While UEFA's public stance against

racism is unequivocal, with numerous

initiatives and grassroots work to fight

discrimination, the fines imposed by

their disciplinary commission have

often seemed paltry.

In 2003 Patrick Vieira, then at Arsenal,

accused UEFA of 'hypocrisy' after

fining clubs just a few thousand pounds

when he experienced a particularly

gruesome night of racist abuse at a

Champions League fixture in Valencia.

In response, UEFA fined Vieira £2,300

for criticising them.

Since then UEFA's disciplinary commission

have imposed marginally

stronger punishments. The Serbian FA

were fined £17,000 when their fans

racially abused England's black players

at an Under-21 tournament last season.

Now, with Zenit St Petersburg poised

to play on English soil, Europe's football

rulers face further pressure to hold

clubs responsible for the racist views of

their supporters.

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