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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 EDT

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.”

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