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UEFA investigates Zenit fans over 'racism' claims

ST. PETERSBURG, March 13 (RIA Novosti) - UEFA is investigating claims by the soccer club Marseille that its colored players were subject to racist taunts by Zenit St. Petersburg fans during the teams' UEFA Cup clash in Russia on Wednesday.

If the investigation produces any findings, the UEFA Control and Disciplinary Body will then examine the matter at its meeting on March 20, UEFA said on its website Thursday.

Although Russian soccer is now full of dark-skinned players, Zenit have never signed a colored 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.

In recent years, St. Petersburg has gained the reputation as one of, if not the most, dangerous city for non-whites in Russia.

Although the allegations of racist taunts during the match against Marseille are as yet unproven, Russian soccer fans, and not only Zenit supporters, have a reputation for racism.

Andrei Bikey, the Cameroonian international and former Lokomotiv Moscow defender now playing for Reading in England, told the British media recently that, "The Lokomotiv fans are fine but when we played against other teams, racism was everywhere, especially when playing against Spartak Moscow. Nevertheless, the police will not protect us. Once, I was followed by three guys, but I managed to escape. In order to protect myself, it would even have been necessary to get a weapon."

Zenit won Wednesday's match against Marseille 2-0 after losing the first game in France 3-1, going through to the last eight of the UEFA Cup on the away goals rule.

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