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Liverpool Fears Racism At Game In Russia
Liverpool's manager will speak to his players about how to respond to any racist abuse during their match against Zenit St Petersburg on Thursday night.
The Europa League tie will be the Russian club's first significant match since a group of its fans published a manifesto in December calling for non-white and gay players to be kept out of their club.
St Petersburg is due to be a host city for the 2018 World Cup and with just five years to go it is hardly the image Russia would hope to project.
Liverpool FC has written to both Zenit and UEFA to express the club's concerns ahead of the game.
Manager Brendan Rodgers said he would be briefing his players about the potential for trouble before the match.
He said: "I will make reference to it because we have players it maybe could affect but we are here for football.
"No-one in life wants to see anyone come under any sort of scrutiny like that.
"You go into the sporting arena and hopefully everyone from football, UEFA, referees and officials will support any player it may affect.
"There is no doubt if there is anything like that which is untoward then as a group, we will do everything we can to support the player or players.
"We hope it is a game where the officials and UEFA can take care of all that."
The club's managing director said they would do whatever was needed to protect their players, both on and off the pitch.
In an interview posted on the Liverpool FC website, Ian Ayre said: "The most important thing for our players is that they remain professional throughout this.
"We certainly won't tolerate that type of attitude or any of those types of incidents from our team.
"So the important thing is that we let them know how we expect them to act if there is an incident.
"I'd much rather we take the incident off the pitch and we deal with it.
"Obviously the referee has a role to play within that. But we'll be briefing our players on what's acceptable and what's not.
"Anything that happens off the pitch, then we'll work very closely with the authorities."
Zenit is the only top-flight Russian side never to have fielded a black player, and has developed a reputation for racism among its fans.
In December its largest fans group, Landscrona, published an open letter on its website objecting to what it called "non-European" and "sexual minorities" players being brought into the club.
The manifesto stated: "We object to representatives of sexual minorities playing for Zenit.
"We are not racists and for us, the lack of black players at Zenit is only an important tradition, which emphasises the identity of the club and nothing more.
"As the most northern club of the major European cities, we have never been associated with Africa, South America or Australia and Oceania.
"We have absolutely nothing against the people of these and any other continent. But now black players are being imposed on Zenit almost by force."
Previous incidents involving the club have included Brazilian player Roberto Carlos being offered a banana by Zenit fans in March 2011, and monkey chants being made and bananas thrown by fans during a match with Marseille in 2008.
The current manager insists there is no formal selection policy excluding black African players, and points to the recent signings of Brazilian striker Hulk and Belgian midfielder Axel Witsel as evidence of the club's multiculturalism.
A spokesperson for the club said it was working with UEFA to ensure the safety of players and fans at tonight's match.
The statement said: "We at Zenit have always condemned racism.
"We strongly underline that tolerance is the only possible mode of development for our club, the game of football, and sport in general.
"We sincerely hope that this principle is fully shared by our opponent, and that we'll all get to see a high-quality football match featuring great support from the stands!"
A statement posted today on the Landscrona fan site, apparently by members of the group, urged Zenit followers to behave tonight, warning that they could be kicked out of the Europa tournament if they did not.