Were not racist, say the club whose manager claims: The fans won't let me sign a black player
By ROB DRAPER
Last updated at 10:43 12 May 2008
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
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
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
'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
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
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