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Zenit fans provoke racism, homophobia row
A section of Zenit Saint Petersburg fans on Monday urged the team not to sign gay, black players or those from South America -- despite the club's star striker Hulk coming from Brazil.
A large Zenit fan movement called "Landskrona" published a manifesto on its website outlining its vision for a team without black or gay players, while insisting that the fans were not bigoted.
"We are not racists and for us the lack of black players at Zenit is just an important tradition, underlining the identity of the club," it said.
It added the club "was never mentally linked with Africa, nor with South America or Australia or Oceania" and complained that "black players are now being imposed on Zenit practically by force".
It also said that "we are against representatives of sexual minorities playing for Zenit," who are currently third in the Russian Premier League, which has become an attractive destination in recent years for an increasing number of foreign players.
Homophobic sentiments run high in Russia, which legalised homosexuality in 1993 after the fall of the Soviet Union but only ceased to classify it as a mental disorder in 1999.
In July this year, city authorities in Saint Petersburg banned what would have been the country's first authorised gay pride rally after a deluge of complaints from residents.
Football in general is notable by its absence of openly gay players, with the sport's macho culture -- both on and off the pitch -- largely blamed.
Zenit, which is owned by Russian gas giant Gazprom, responded to the fans by telling the Interfax news agency that the club's players "join our team not because of their nationality and skin colour" and urged fans to be tolerant.
"The fight with various forms of intolerance is the only principle for the development of our club, football and sport in the whole world," it said.
The team's striker Hulk, 26, joined in September this year on a reported transfer of 60 million euros from Porto.
His huge salary of $6.5 million a year sparked a rebellion among the Russian players.
The current team's players come from Belgium, Portugal, Belarus, Italy, Slovakia, Denmark, Montenegro and Serbia as well as Russia.
Some Russian fan groups have close links with nationalist movements and display racist banners while monkey chants at matches are common.
Zenit have been troubled by fan violence in the past. The team had to pay a 19,000-dollar fine in November after Zenit fans threw a firecracker that injured Dynamo Moscow's goalkeeper at an away match, forcing the match to be abandoned.
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