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Racists who support Zenit St. Petersburg say they aren’t racists; you make the call

Dec 17, 2012, 12:05 PM EST

Benfica's Belgian midfielder Alex Witsel

“We’re not racists but we see the absence of black players at Zenit as an important tradition.”

And there you have it. That disturbing message is from the largest supporters group of Zenit St. Petersburg, one of the most successful clubs in Russia, which is site of the 2018 World Cup.

So, I think we can all see the larger issue here.

On the one hand, this is supporters group, not the team itself;  Clearly that’s an important distinction that needs to be circled. Zenit has no official comment on the supporters club’s hateful message.

Still, the absurd demand that Zenit St Petersburg refrain from employing black and gay players underscores the racism and bigotry issues that still infect the game in some parts of Eastern Europe.

Zenit, the two-time Russian champion, is the most prominent Russian club to have never signed an African player. Apparently, recent acquisitions of Brazilian forward Hulk and Belgian midfielder Axel Witsel brought out the right-wing, nationalist impulses in the supporters’ group Landscrona, who claim not to be racist.

Only, they are.

The statements read, in part:

We’re not racists but we see the absence of black players at Zenit as an important tradition. It would allow Zenit to maintain the national identity of the club, which is the symbol of St Petersburg.”

“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.”

  1. cosmosatan - Dec 17, 2012 at 1:39 PM

    I completely and utterly abhor their attitude.

    Bizarrely they’ll get away with it as long as they are still successful.

    However, I don’t see the uproar about other clubs who practice this such as Athletic Bilbao. They only have players who are from the basque region or family ties to the area. Thats no different than saying you only want Russian/Slavic players.

    • crnelson10 - Dec 17, 2012 at 2:28 PM

      Or Chivas de Guadalajara, who said Herculez Gomez wasn’t Mexican enough.

  2. mkbryant3 - Dec 17, 2012 at 2:17 PM

    Zenit has no comment. That speaks volumes.

  3. perrinbar - Dec 17, 2012 at 2:23 PM

    Has it ever been the case, in the history of time, that the phrase “We’re not racists, but…” has ever been followed by something not racist? This is unconscionable and really, really horrifying that this can be a thing.

  4. George H - Dec 17, 2012 at 2:42 PM

    This is a real shame, especially since St. Petersburg is such a friendly and welcoming city to visitors.

    I’m sure that FIFA and UEFA will do something about this (said no one ever).

  5. charliej11 - Dec 17, 2012 at 2:56 PM

    yeah FIFA will be all over it….a zero tolerance policy is in place you know.

    Zenit fans: ” We are idiots, but we do have a dumb excuse that we (as idiots ) thought would fly and make us look LESS stupid.”

    It really is the communities fault. There is NO way this flies where I live. It will always be around in some form, but if they are not completely isolated and chastised, then who’s fault is that ?

  6. wesbadia - Dec 17, 2012 at 3:46 PM

    Allow me to be the Devil’s Advocate and the one who plays the opposite side of the coin, as I so often do in my life…

    As was alluded to above, there are many teams (ie, the ownership entity, NOT supporter’s groups) around the world that have made it their prerogative to sign ONLY a certain ethnicity, race, nationality, or skin color to their squads. First and foremost is Chivas de Guadalajara. And, if Vergara gets his way, that premise will be carried over to Chivas USA as well under el Chelis.

    It is one thing for a group of fans to demand their team not have a certain personality on it. It could be against anything from ethnicity to creed to attitude to ugliness, etc. The list is endless. But a club is different because they are the ones in control of the assets that go to pay for those players. A supporter’s group can be dismissed as a band of bigots. That’s fine. They don’t ultimately make the decisions that go into a club. But if we extend that assessment to the club, which has legal and natural control over those acquisitioning assets, then we’re demanding they use those resources in a way that we dictate. This is fine as long as that’s as far as it goes. But when we get another entity in the fight, we suddenly pull weight to levy economic sanctions (or even competitive ones) onto a club that is trying to best run its organization with its own resources as best as they see fit.

    A hypothetical: if an African league or an African team (say South Africa) demands that all its players and personnel have dark complected skin color, which would exclude any Dutch or English ethnic players (who traditionally occupy roles like GK) from playing, is there an issue? If this club or team used the reasoning that it was to foster a given ethnic pride in their region, could we fault them? I don’t think we could. Promoting the roots of African civilization might be good for its youth to see.

    Then what is the issue of a supporter’s group wanting this ethnicity stressed in their club or region? A region, I might add, that is still largely struggling with the repercussions of 80 years of tyranny by communist regime. Instilling a certain amount of regional pride may do well enough to help drag people out of the doldrums of their every day lives which are still so regimented and dictated. Then again, it could do exactly the opposite…

    Point being is that I don’t think either of these two situations are really any different. And neither is the International Roster Slot system that MLS employs. Or the percentage of playing time for Mexican players that Liga MX employs. It’s all a form of voluntary affirmative action, and they’re all being employed in a way that stresses what the owning entities want to stress: the development of a certain type of player that they believe will pay bigger dividends than others.

    And herein is the crux of my argument: if the economics of signing ONLY certain ethnicities or races proves to be unsustainable (ie, profits turn to losses, less people watch, etc etc) then the market has decided to punish that owning entity for making poor decisions. And, very likely, this would be the case. That the exclusion of people of color might mean an inferior product because Zenit would be unwilling to accept the help of a potentially superior player, and thus might end up bottom of the league for years while their competitors adopt a more open policy with player selection.

    Ultimately, those willing to pay for the product Zenit is putting on the field will decide whether they fail or not, regardless of the choices Zenit makes with its player acquisitions. This problem, though, hasn’t even gotten this far, as it’s solely the opinion of a select supporter’s group and not the organization as a whole.

    • charliej11 - Dec 17, 2012 at 9:37 PM

      Is there an issue if the policy of an African team only signing black players (which isn’t the same btw ) ? Yes, yes there is.

      Again if any fans are accepting of this view they need to look in the mirror themsleves and change what they see staring back.

      • mogogo1 - Dec 17, 2012 at 10:13 PM

        Why isn’t it the same? There are white Africans just as there are black Russians. The day the hypothetical African club in that example was condemned just as severely as Zenit is here will be a huge day in the fight to overcome racism. Unfortunately, we’re still stuck at a weird place on that road where while some racism is totally condemned, other examples still get tacit approval.

      • wesbadia - Dec 18, 2012 at 9:10 AM

        Just to exacerbate what mogogo1 said about the example I provided, I would argue that NEITHER case of discrimination is right OR wrong. I’m arguing for organizations that have control over their own property (ie, the resources that constitute the organization like finances, physical property, real estate, equipment, etc) should also have the right to use those resources in ways in which they feel they are being utilized as best as possible. If that “best way” in the eyes of the owners is to promote a strictly ethno-centric team on some level, then that’s their prerogative to do so. If you deny them the inherent right to do this (as an extension of property rights) then you deny any amount of property rights, by extension. For, what are property rights unless you have say over what they can be used for?

        That does not take away your ability or right to petition that organization to act in other means or ways. But to demand and expect them to change is unacceptable. When it crosses that line, you suddenly enter into chaos. Society does not, as we can see around the world, work when chaos invades.

        So, charliej11, my question to you is the same as mogogo1’s: why aren’t the two examples the same?

      • charliej11 - Dec 18, 2012 at 4:21 PM

        I say they are not the same because one was the team and the other the fans.

        No matter, I say any standard like that is just wrong. If you don’t agree, the only thing I can say is hmmmm.

        The whole thing is just stupid.
        My wife is African American and whiter than white, is she aloud to play or not ? She probably would be….what a bunch of morons.

      • wesbadia - Dec 18, 2012 at 5:03 PM

        If we want this entire dialog about race (EVERY dialog we have about race that has EVER happened) to be about how individuals feel about judging others on nebulous things like what part of the world they come from or their skin pigmentation or what customs their ancestors and neighbors have practiced, then that’s cool. I’m all for that, and, in fact, I’m in agreement with most people that making judgments based on those things above are short-sighted and ill-conceived, based on faulty logic.

        The problem is these discussions so often devolve into demands for some sort of governing entity to miraculously step in and hand forth an edict immediately outlawing any such nonsensical behavior like some they’re a sort of benevolent dictator capable of only good. Some of us realize that this is impossible; that vices are not crimes and morals cannot be legislated.

        So, if we want to devolve conversation into whether racism and the like should be outlawed and regulated by a “higher authority” (as it appears many here already have done), then ok. In that case, go back and read my original post about property rights. No need to say “hmmm” about anything. There’s a clear distinction between what I’m saying should be a right and what I’m saying I disagree with subjectively.

  7. bellerophon30 - Dec 17, 2012 at 8:27 PM

    Yeah, I’m not sure how this is any different from what Athletic Bilbao does. I agree that talent should win out, and so do the people in actual charge at Zenit. I mean they paid a boatload of money for Hulk and Axel didn’t they? Surely they knew that neither player was Slavic ahead of time. See, they’ve not been silent on the matter.

  8. twalkray - Dec 17, 2012 at 9:41 PM

    I think what’s being overlooked, and what makes this in my mind wholly racist, is that they mention black people specifically. They don’t mention the English or the French as non-slavs, and i wonder how they would feel about an afro-russian in their side.

  9. seanb20124 - Dec 17, 2012 at 10:15 PM

    Ok, so list the teams that employ gay players?

    • wesbadia - Dec 18, 2012 at 9:11 AM

      Provide a list of all the gay players in the world of professional soccer first. Then I’ll tell you what teams employ them…

  10. futbolhistorian - Dec 18, 2012 at 9:15 AM

    Racism is such a complicated topic. Here’s a comment made by a prominent American soccer executive:

    “I love the Chivas-Guadalajara model of having players all from Mexico,” said XXX-owner YYY. “Will XXX ever be 100 percent players from the Metroplex? I don’t think so, but we can have a large number of home-grown players here.”

    It’s a true quote. Nothing was said of it at the time. But it says similar things. Or does it? Like I said, it’s a complicated topic, and I’m not sure I know how to get my head around it. I just know racism is bad, but where does one draw the line in calling someone racist? When is it jingoism? Prejudice? Is there a difference? Are there degrees? It’s complicated.

    • futbolhistorian - Dec 18, 2012 at 9:19 AM

      And by prominent American soccer executive, I meant he’s an American, who is a soccer executive in the US. Not an executive, who my be foreign working in American soccer. Just to clarify it wasn’t someone at Chivas USA saying that.

    • charliej11 - Dec 18, 2012 at 4:26 PM

      Having players from a region is not racist at all. Not saying I agree with it, just saying it is not racist.

      I can pick blacks, asians, whites, hispanics and others from my neighborhood very easily and form a team, if I exclude people from Kansas because I want a local team, that is very different than I won’t take blacks from my neighborhood.

      IF the Chivas guy says we will only have Hispanics, that would be racist.

      I disagree Racism is NOT complicated….at all.

      • wesbadia - Dec 18, 2012 at 5:18 PM

        charliej11: you make the perfect case of why racism in sports personnel selections will fail economically with your example of a regionally- or locally-based team. The pool of selection is ultimately limited when you place any sort of requisite on who can join. That requisite could be anything from attractiveness, to hair color, to bicep size, to height, to nationality, to skin color. Or age, sex, religion, ethnicity, etc. It doesn’t matter. When you voluntarily limit yourself in the selections you need to make, you ultimately shoot your own foot long-term because it means you’re passing over quality talent that usually has a good chance of being a better choice than someone you’ve selected based on your preset requisites.

        Your locally-based and -staffed team has limited itself from being competitive in anything outside your local area. If I would make up a term for your mindset, it’d be “regionalist” or “localist”.

        Which leads me to my main point: what futbolhistorian described was NOT racism, you’re right; but it WAS nationalism, or culturalism. It does not matter what it’s called, the premise is the same — the choice to limit your pool of talent to some preset requisites. Again, it does not matter what it’s called or what those requisites are. They are conducted in the same way and reach the same ends.

        And here’s a crucial understanding that I believe blinds many people: the presence or absence of hate and animosity in forming those requisites. We are conditioned to think that anyone exhibiting these requisites of race or creed or whatever are automatically hateful bigots bent on evil ways. That is not always true. And herein is why the statement from the Zenit group should not be taken the way Steve (and others) have taken it – “We’re not racists, but let us be racist”.

      • charliej11 - Dec 19, 2012 at 3:55 PM

        I am NOT saying they are regionalist or whatever.

        I AM saying they are racist.
        I believe, correctly, that if you are not color blind then you are a racist.

        Hopefully these idiots will join me in being color blind, it is a great place to be.

      • wesbadia - Dec 20, 2012 at 9:07 AM

        And yet while you and others self-righteously proclaim this supposed “color blindness”, you still refer to people by the color of their skin. Failing to realize the hypocrisy of this means you’re not really in some special sphere of righteousness, it means you’re just ignoring the facts as they pertain to you.

        Humanity needs to face the fact that skin color (what we term “race”, for some reason…) is a facet of all individuals. It is apart of what makes them who they are. We cannot be truly “color blind” because when we try to be, we either become hypocrites (like you) or we fail to recognize a defining factor about someone’s individuality. Instead, how about focusing on instilling pride in who that person is instead of trying to convince, demand, and bully others into believing that the person’s skin color doesn’t exist?

        Then again, isn’t this instilling of individual pride about who they are what Zenit supporter’s are attempting to do here?

        This just highlights how asinine the whole race debate actually is…

      • charliej11 - Dec 20, 2012 at 2:48 PM

        Wow, wesbadia, just wow.

  11. phillyphannn83 - Dec 18, 2012 at 10:53 AM

    If I’m not mistaken, didn’t Chivas threaten to pull their sponsorship over this? Aren’t they pulling their sponsorship of Chivas USA regardless?

  12. futbolhistorian - Dec 18, 2012 at 5:42 PM

    charliej11 – that was my point. Discriminating based on race (black vs non black for example) is racism. But descrimating against fat people is not racism. But is equally as bad. Whether the fat person is black, white, or orange, you are still discrimating against a group of people based on standards that you decide are superior. So if you choose to only pick players from your geographic region, whether they are black, white or whatever, aren’t you discriminating?

    • charliej11 - Dec 19, 2012 at 3:59 PM

      Sure you are still discriminating. I would have to think how I feel about that. The US did it for years, still probably does, just not as rediculous as the old NASL, when they set quotas for US player minimums.

  13. mmancini99 - Dec 19, 2012 at 3:05 AM

    How is this worse than the racist CLUB policy employed by Chivas de Guadalajara, which is often praised by soccer journalists?

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