Zenit St. Petersburg striker ‘Hulk’ Givanildo Vieira de Souza has spoken out about homophobic and racist fans of his club.
Zenit paid â‚¬40 million to bring the Brazilian champion to Russia, but three months after he was signed in September, a leading Zenit fan club published a manifesto against the club signing black or gay players.
‘We are not racists, but the absence of black players in the Zenit line-up is an important tradition that underlines the identity of the club,’ the manifesto read.
‘We are against the inclusion of representatives of sexual minorities in the Zenit team.’
However in an interview with R-Sport, Hulk spoke out against such attitudes.
‘I think that these people, these fans, do not think about culture,’ Hulk said.
‘I respect fans of any skin color and any sexual orientation. The people who are talking about dark-skinned people and gays are just not thinking.’
Zenit is the only major Russian football club to never field a black player – although Hulk and Axel Witsel, another team mate signed last year, are of mixed race.
The club has rejected claims that race is a factor in the players it selects.
‘Players get into our team not by nationalities and skin color but sporting qualities and achievements,’ the club said in a statement last year.
However former club manager Dick Advocaat said that fan pressure prevented him from recruiting black players when he was in charge of the club between 2006 and 2009.
St. Petersburg is one of a number of Russian jurisdictions that have passed so called anti-homosexual propaganda laws to gag LGBT activits.