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Dec 18, 2012

Spalletti urges tolerance after Zenit letter

Zenit St Petersburg boss Luciano Spalletti says people involved with football must show "respect for other cultures" after fans of the club published a letter demanding that non-European players and "sexual minorities" be prohibited from playing for them.

Zenit are the only club in the Russian Premier League never to have signed an African player, with a group of supporters calling for the reigning champions to maintain that "tradition".

It was also claimed that the team should only include players from Slavic, Baltic and Scandinavian nations, though the letter denied that this approach was racist. Published on Zenit fan website Landscrona, the 'manifesto' read: "We object to representatives of sexual minorities playing for Zenit.

"We are not racists and for us, the lack of black players at Zenit is only an important tradition, which emphasises the identity of the club and nothing more. Zenit has its own identity in the world of football, along with a number of football clubs that have retained their own identity.

"As the most northern club of the major European cities, we have never been associated with Africa, South America or Australia and Oceania. We have absolutely nothing against the people of these and any other continent. But now black players are being imposed on Zenit almost by force.

"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."

Zenit manager Spalletti did not refer directly to the statement, but the Italian insisted the principle of tolerance must be upheld by those involved with football.

"Tolerance for me is the ability to understand and accept differences," Spalletti told Zenit's official website.

"Furthermore, being tolerant means that you fight against any kind of stupidity. I can personally assure you that I will do everything I can to help those who seek to explain what tolerance is, and the need to respect other cultures and traditions.

"The team has gathered players from different countries and ethnic groups who work together to achieve a common goal. Their combined efforts bring tangible results."

Several of Zenit's current squad have roots away from Europe; Bruno Alves and Axel Witsel have ancestry in Brazil and Martinique respectively, while winger Danny was born in Venezuela and star striker Hulk is from Brazil.