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Dec 19, 2012

Zenit fan group hits out at media

The Zenit St Petersburg fan group responsible for a controversial 'manifesto' concerning black and gay players has insisted its message was misrepresented.

Landscrona, the club's largest fan group, issued a letter on its website on Monday arguing that the "absence of black players" at the club was "an important tradition". The group added that Russians, along with the "brotherly Slav nations", Baltic states and Scandinavia, better understood the club's mentality and culture.

The manifesto, which insisted the group was not racist, also said "sexual minorities" should not represent Zenit.

The remarks met with criticism throughout the game and Zenit director of sport Dietmar Beiersdorfer and coach Luciano Spalletti distanced the club from its message.

However, the group has issued a subsequent statement to iterate that the group is not racist and is merely seeking to maintain a sense of identity at the club.

The new statement read: "Unfortunately, it has become clear to us why many players refuse to speak to journalists. There have been numerous out-of-context headlines, distorted quotes and labels applied that go beyond reasonable limits.

"We once again strongly reject any accusations of racism. [The manifesto] does not mention anywhere that we believe that the people of certain countries and religions do not have the right to play for Zenit."

The new statement quotes a line from the manifesto stating that European players should be prioritised and adds: "THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT IT IS A TABOO. To sign players from Latin America, for example, only makes sense if there has first been an honest, professional effort to sign a player from Russia, or Europe.

"We, as the most northerly club of all the major European cities, have no mental association with Africa, just as we have no association with South America or Austalia or Oceania. We have absolutely nothing against the people of these or any other continents, but we want a Zenit team primarily made of players who share our spirit and mentality."

The group said some of the media accusations had been "absurd" and that all of the foreign players to have signed for the club have spoken of the "exceptionally warm welcome" they have received from the fans and residents of St Petersburg.

Nonetheless, Anzhi Makhachkala defender Christopher Samba has said he believes the group is holding back Russian football.

The former Blackburn defender, who saw a banana thrown in his direction during a game at Lokomotiv Moscow in March, hopes action is taken to address the issue of racism in the country.

"I'm not surprised," Samba said, according to BBC Sport. "Everybody knows Zenit supporters are no good and racist. They are living in another century. It's a sad day for Russian football. In this time we have different communities and countries that constitute teams. If they can't accept that then they are never going to progress.

"It's really sad. It's slowing down the process of Russian football being a better league. I hope the Russian federation do the necessary to sanction it."

Zenit defender Michael Lumb has revealed that the club had abandoned a bid to sign Togolese striker Emmanuel Adebayor from Manchester City in 2011 due to fears over the reaction of the fans.

"Personally, I wasn't surprised to see a manifesto like that from the Zenit fans," he told sporten.dk. "At one point the club had been interested in Adebayor and were in serious negotiations to buy him, but in the end the management decided to abandon their plans to avoid causing problems with the fans."

Hulk and Axel Witsel became the first black players to represent Zenit when they signed from Porto and Benfica in September, but the club has yet to sign an African player.

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