Black players at Zenit St. Petersburg? The fans’ views

Recently the St. Petersburg football website used its Twitter feed to pose the following question to its followers: How would you react to a dark-skinned footballer playing for Zenit St. Petersburg?

All of the answers were then retweeted, and I have translated these below. I have taken out names – to focus on the replies themselves – though judging by the profile pictures the respondents were both male and female and of various ages. I haven’t included answers that veered away from the original question, and have numbered responses in the order they appeared to make them easier to follow.

With so much in the UK media about Russian football and racism at present, perhaps one of the best lines of enquiry that can be taken as to the seriousness of the problem is to read the words of the Russian fans themselves:

@footballpiter How would you react to a dark-skinned footballer playing for Zenit?

1) There’s no black in Zenit’s colours – therefore nothing to discuss.

2) Negatively – there’s no black in Zenit’s colours. There have never been black players at Zenit, and we shouldn’t break this tradition))

3) Only positively – the colour of skin doesn’t matter if a player can strengthen a team’s game.

4) Only positively – if he strengthens the team then why not?

5) If he’s an excellent footballer who behaves well and doesn’t complain about racism to all and sundry, and if he’ll fly the flag for Zenit – then YES!

6) What’s this? Provocation?

7) It’s important to change things that will lead to improvements. Teams without athletic black players haven’t won trophies for a long time.

8) Negatively)) Africa shouldn’t play at Zenit.

9) Yes, yes, yes. We should buy Toure:)

10) Doesn’t matter what colour if you’re talking about a genuine world-class star.

11) We have enough of them in our championship already!

12) I’ve got nothing against them, but I don’t want any blacks at Zenit!

13) Totally against this – we haven’t had any and shouldn’t have any.

14) If he plays like Pele then I’m totally for it!

15) Nothing personal, but we don’t need black players at Zenit.

16) Would be in favour.

Initial feelings – a depressingly sizeable number with a negative reaction, and for the usual (in my experience) spurious reasons; though some western media outlets might take note of the number of Zenit fans that don’t share this view….

Saul Pope is a blogger on Russian and Ukrainian football and contributor to ‘When Saturday Comes’ magazine. He can be followed on Twitter: @saulpope

Football Petersburg has news about the city’s football scene (in Russian) – and clearly likes to challenge its readership with a question or two…

Another post by me on the topic: Russian fans hold the key to eradicating racism in their stadiums.


10 thoughts on “Black players at Zenit St. Petersburg? The fans’ views

  1. It is quite depressing looking at those comments, but it is only from the twitter feed. What I would like to know is what is the Russian media saying about this? They may not drive such a frenzy as the media in this country but would be interesting to hear what they’ve been saying about this?

    • theslacker

      I imagine Football Petersburg will do something with the Twitter feed – but haven’t yet. With the recent race issues, there has been a view in Russia that things have been blown out of proportion by a British media jealous that Russia got the 2018 World Cup….

      Sport Express, Russia’s leading sports newspaper, has been outspoken in its criticism of racism in stadiums – and has consistently held this view for years. Individual journalists have suggested (as John Barnes did recently) that the UK should look closer to home as well, e.g. Man City fans were apparently chanting that CSKA fans are ‘racist bastards’ the other night…a generalisation and stereotype unfair to those fans as a whole.

    • The russian media don’t give a shit mate! Asians and Blacks get murdered and beaten ALL the time in Russia, and the media don’t actually care. Well, to be fair, neither does the western media!!

  2. Strange to see that certain residents of a city that suffered so much from the nazis harbour such idiotic views themselves. Of all the reasons to dislike people skin colour certainly seems to be the most irrelevant.

  3. Is Zenit unique is being traditionally all-white?

    Athletic Bilbao is all-Basque, and that doesn’t strike me as racist or fascist. More like idealist, in that they want to represent their locale.

    We see a lot of the Ukrainian teams fielding a bunch of Brazilians. Is this common in Russia too?

    Of course the racist overtones are unpleasant, but maybe there is some benefit to having Zenit follow their racist attitude into mediocrity. If they find that restricting themselves to an all-white squad puts them at a competitive disadvantage, that could be an educational experience.

    • theslacker

      Zenit currently – and in the past – hasn’t had an all-white squad. Currently Hulk and Axel Witsel play for the side, neither of whom would likely consider themselves ‘white’. In the past players from South Korea, Argentina and Turkey have also represented Zenit.

      Zenit is unique amongst the big Russian sides in never having had a player of African heritage, which is where the above debate stems from. And it is a debate – despite the feeling most get from reading the above. Having followed the Russian league almost since its inception, I see a positive development in that more and more Russians will speak out against the kind of racist views expressed above (two of the replies to the question I didn’t translate were Russians berating the ignorance of some…), and I think it is through these people that we will eventually see a society-wide change in mentality.

  4. Well, I am blue skinned and a wonderful footballer who could transform any team, but I like Zenit, am I welcomed?

  5. Peter Gold

    With all respect, I think your question to them completely missed the point. We already knew that they didn’t want black players there, but the question should have been simply “Why don’t you want black players at Zenit?”

    • theslacker

      It wasn’t my question….it was (as I state in the piece) a question from a St. Petersburg football website.

  6. Even many of the ‘positive’ replies seem to only want black people if they’re ‘world-class’ or ‘like Pele’. Not many responses saying skin colour is completely irrelevant.

    I know it’s wrong to expect other cultures (especially ones with no really black history) to react the same as most western countries but it’s still incredibly depressing that people have a problem with the colour of another man’s skin.

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