Zenit St. Petersburg: Why Russian Champs Must Condemn Racist Letter from Fans

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Zenit St. Petersburg: Why Russian Champs Must Condemn Racist Letter from Fans
Dmitry Korotayev/Getty Images

The idiots have crawled out of their hole again, spewing their nonsense to whomever will listen. The football club they supposedly support is almost taking the correct approach to the madness.

Almost.

On Monday, a group of Zenit Saint Petersburg supporters released a letter addressed to the two-time defending Russian Premier League champions. The supporters represent the club's largest fan group, and they hold extreme views about how the club should deal with race and sexuality.

Reuters reports:

The largest fan group of Russian champions Zenit St Petersburg have demanded the club refrain from buying black and gay players following turmoil surrounding the acquisition of Brazil striker Hulk.

"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 (www.landscrona.ru) 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.

The letter also expressed opposition to having homosexuals in the squad. It called for the team to sign only players from "brotherly Slav nations."

According to the Reuters report, a spokesperson from Zenit said the club would not respond. That had changed by Tuesday.

Manager Luciano Spalletti later called the letter's sentiments "stupidity" and asked for tolerance (via BBC Sport). Dietmar Beiersdorfer, Zenit's director of sports, said (via FC-Zenit.ru) that the club has "absolutely no policy of limiting our selection by origin or skin color." 

Neither, however, condemned the fans outright. That's a mistake.

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First, though, let's back up. The fans made at least one decent point. Football clubs can and should function as vital, active members of their local communities. A club can and should serve as a cornerstone and point of pride for the community it represents.

Likewise, a club can and should maintain physical ties to the community by recruiting homegrown players and through outreach programs that benefit those around them. A strong community, after all, can build tradition and a healthy relationship between club and supporters.

On that much, we can all agree. On that much, the idiot fans have a point, if that's actually what they meant.

The rest is not even worth the time it took to write.

No club would find value in giving maniacs like this a platform for their poison. As members of the media, we too should consider soberly whether publicizing such stupidity provides any news value. All of us—fans, writers, even players and managers—must decide whether these fans are worthy of real debate.

On this next point, I should be absolutely clear. This is not a denunciation of Zenit. Nor is this a call to limit free speech.

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But if we can agree that a football club can serve as a cornerstone of its community, maybe we can agree on this as well. As a highly visible representative of its community, a club must also serve a leadership role. As such, refusing to condemn these racist, bigoted fans is not an option.

As two-time defending league champions, Zenit are currently the face of Russian club football. After investing heavily in Hulk and Axel Witsel last summer, Zenit signaled a new intent to break into Europe's elite. Any such move should bring with it a realization that Zenit cannot be associated with xenophobia and bigotry.

It's not enough to call for tolerance and recite platitudes about the club's all-inclusive recruiting policies. What's more, that stance is undermined by the fact that Zenit have never signed an African player.

On some level, these fans felt comfortable enough to write what they wrote. Zenit's monochromatic history must have played at least a small role in that. The longer these fans' views go unchallenged, the more outspoken they are likely to become.

As the club becomes an emerging force in European football, Zenit and its decision-makers have an obligation to take responsibility for their fans and their relationship with the larger world. In the face of bigotry, only full condemnation will suffice.

 

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