The largest fan group of Russian champions Zenit St Petersburg has demanded the club refrain from buying black and gay players.
“We're not racists but we see the absence of black players at Zenit as an important tradition,” Zenit fan club Landscrona said in a letter, called the “Selection 12 manifesto”, posted on its website on Monday.
“It would allow Zenit to maintain the national identity of the club, which is the symbol of St Petersburg.”
Zenit have been the only top club in Russia to have never signed an African player while the northern city of St Petersburg is known to have a strong right-wing nationalist influence.
“Only sign players from brotherly nations”
The fans said they want more home-grown or European players in the team. “We only want players from other brotherly Slav nations, such as Ukraine and Belarus as well as from the Baltic states and Scandinavia. We have the same mentality and historical and cultural background as these nations,” the letter said.
They also expressed their opposition to having “sexual minorities” in the team. Several prominent black players have turned down lucrative offers from the wealthy club over the past 12 months after receiving death threats from Zenit fans.
A Zenit spokesman said on Monday the club would not comment on the fans' letter.
Piara Powar of the FARE Network commented, “To most football fans the Zenit manifesto seeking racial purity of players would seem to be an attention seeking joke. Sadly given the recent history of some Zenit fan groups it is anything but.
“Diversity makes for success”
“The science of performance tells us that the wider the pool of players for selection, regardless of race or sexual orientation, the higher the chances of on-field success. In football diversity makes for winning teams.
“Russia has many active minority groups, to ignore all but white Russians will isolate Zenit and lead to failure. Perhaps that is no bad thing.”
The former Zenit and Russia striker Alexander Panov said the fans have no right to influence the club's selection policy. “If we don't have enough good players from St Petersburg, then what should the club do?” he said.
Zenit have been in turmoil for the past few months with several senior players unhappy after the wealthy club splashed out more than £60m on the Brazil forward Hulk and Belgium midfielder Axel Witsel just before the transfer deadline.
Zenit demoted the Russia captain Igor Denisov to the reserve team in September after he refused to play, issuing an ultimatum to renegotiate his contract in line with what Hulk was making. Denisov was later allowed to rejoin the first team after making an apology.