Campaigners are calling for clarification from UEFA Cup finalists FC Zenit St Peterburg of their stance against racism.
The club's official website states:
FC Zenit is very serious about fans, who are disrespectful towards sportsmen and opponents from other nationalities and religions. The club is true to the thought that there is no place for such persons on the stadium, and is doing all measures to investigate such incidents, up to forbidding access to the stadium.
FC Zenit actively supports European and national antiracist campaigns and plans its participation in European ‘Show Red Card to Racism!’ activity.
However, this commitment has been put into serious doubt by remarks attributed by the BBC to the FC Zenit manager Dick Advocaat. Zenit are the only club in Russia never to have signed a black player, and their fans were accused of racist taunts during the Uefa Cup win over Marseille earlier this season.
Marseille defender Ronald Zubar said:
“They threw a banana at us and made monkey sounds”.
Manager Dick Advocaat has even admitted that the fans' attitude has affected his transfer policy.
“The problem is our fans,” he says.
“I would be happy to sign anyone but the fans don't like black players.
“I don't understand how they could pay so much attention to skin colour. For me, there's no difference between white, black or red.
“But the fans are the most important thing Zenit have. That's why, in future, I have to ask them outright how they'll react if we sign a dark-skinned player.
“If the fans don't agree with me, I won't do it. I won't buy a player who won't be accepted by the fans.”
Yesterday Advocaat claimed he had been misquoted, but disquiet over his remarks threatens to overshadow Zenit's first European final.
Chairman of UK campaign Kick It Out, Lord Herman Ouseley has stated that he feels the Russian clubs are 'complicit' in the issue. He 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.”