16 March 2008

A Stadium Full of Hate: Zenit's Racist Fans Scrutinized, Again

Since the spectacle of international sports largely depends on the incitement of nationalist and regionalist fervors (i.e., cheering for one country/locale over another), the regularity of peculiar outbursts of racism, homophobia and sexism at matches should come as no surprise. In Russia, the trend is particularly bad as football stadiums have become a refuge for the worst brands of regressive extremism and the out-going President seemed only to encourage these elements. (NG article via Sean; image source: Novaya Gazeta)

The latest example comes from St. Petersburg, where black players from Marseille are claiming that they were the victims of racist taunts, monkey chants and having a banana thrown at them before a match against local favorites Zenit.

UEFA, European football’s governing body has a strict policy for penalizing teams that foster club cultures of hatred and is currently investigating the claim. Zenit, rather than owning up to the problem, is denying the charge. In a public statement on the matter, the organization contended that:

Our club has millions of supporters in different countries. The club and its players repeatedly took part in the anti-racist programmes permanently expressing their negative attitude to any outbreaks of racism.

The club can only express its bewilderment concerning the accusations of racist propaganda made by Zenit fans that appeared after Marseille left Saint Petersburg.
You might contrast this statement with the following information from RIAN:

Although Russian soccer is full of players from different ethnic backgrounds, Zenit have never signed a black footballer. The club denies that this is official policy, yet a number of the side's more hard-line fans have frequently stated that any move by the club, which is financed by Russian energy giant Gazprom, to buy players from, say, Africa or the Caribbean, would lead to
protests and boycotts of the side's games.
Furthermore, this wouldn’t be the first time Zenit fans’ racism was the object of international scrutiny.

But the facts of this particular case aren’t in. I can only hope that if the claims turn out to be true, UEFA will make good on one official’s promise:

The measures we take depend on the seriousness of the incident but UEFA's principle is for zero tolerance towards racism…We've already taken tough action in proven cases of racism and there's no place in football for violence, xenophobia or homophobia.

So if the Association wants to hit 'em where it counts and deter further excuse-making from Zenit, the proper fine would be one that would equal the potential losses of a racist fan boycott. Think big, UEFA, think big.