Brazilian winger Malcom could leave Zenit St Petersburg just days after completing a £41m move to the Russian club after supporters displayed overtly racist banners during his debut and insisted that “the absence of black players is an important tradition”.
The 22-year-old, who joined Zenit from Barcelona last week, was targeted by racist abuse after coming on as a substitute against Krasnodar on Saturday with a section of Zenit ultras parading a banner condemning the club for recruiting a black player.
One banner read: “RIP Selection 12” – a reference to a manifesto created by Zenit fans to lay out their desired transfer policy, including the absence of black players.
Another sign, held aloft for 10 minutes, read: “Thanks to the leadership for loyalty to the traditions.”
The section of supporters subsequently released a statement insisting they “are not racist” but that signing a black player “would cause backlash”.
“We are not racist and for us the absence of black players is just an important tradition, emphasising the identity of the club and nothing more,” the statement claimed.
“We, as the northernmost club of the major European cities, have never been mentally connected with Africa, however, as with South America or Australia or Oceania.
“We have absolutely nothing against the inhabitants of these or any other continents, but at the same time we want players who are close in spirit to speak for Zenit.
“Now, black players for Zenit are being forced almost by force, and this causes only backlash. Let us be what we are.”
Zenit also issued a statement denying that the banner was racist, which read: “Zenit Football Club are aware a banner was revealed by a small number of individuals that read “Thank you leadership for believing in tradition” and that the meaning of this statement has been misrepresented in various parts of the media, and based on these misrepresentations, incorrect conclusions have been drawn that have no basis in reality.”
Zenit fans have a recent history of being at the centre of racist controversies after the club’s largest fans’ group, Landscrona, claimed black players were “forced down Zenit’s throat” after the club signed Hulk and Axel Witsel in the summer of 2012.
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