ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — Zenit St. Petersburg's star striker Hulk says he encounters racism in "almost every game" in Russia and the Brazil international fears it could tarnish the country when it hosts the 2018 World Cup.
Hulk, the most expensive signing in Russian Premier League history, has repeatedly faced monkey chants in Russia and also accused a referee of racially abusing him.
"If (racism) happens in the World Cup, it will be really gross and really ugly. Usually it happens when Russian clubs play and it doesn't come out to the world and the world doesn't know about this," he said through a translator.
"I must say that almost every game I see this happening. I used to get angry, but now I see this doesn't help, so I just send a kiss to our fans and try not to get angry."
In the first game of the new Russian league season Friday, Ghanaian player Emmanuel Frimpong, formerly of Arsenal, said he was racially abused by the crowd while playing for FC Ufa against Spartak Moscow.
Frimpong was sent off for an offensive gesture to Spartak fans and faces a ban of between two and four games.
Frimpong said on Twitter that he had been "racially abused for the game that I love."
He added: "I'm going to serve a sentence for being abused ... and yet we (are) going to hold a World Cup in this country."
Last season, two Moscow clubs, Spartak and Torpedo, were punished after their fans abused Hulk with monkey chants. The Russian capital will host the 2018 World Cup final.
After the Torpedo incident, Zenit coach Andre Villas-Boas branded the abuse of Hulk a "disaster" for Russian football, adding: "The insults, the racist insults to Hulk, they go around the world, and this is the image of the Russian Premier League."
In December, Hulk alleged he was racially abused by Russian referee Alexei Matyunin during a league game. The referee was cleared by a Russian Football Union panel, which ruled there was insufficient evidence.
A report published in February by the anti-discrimination group FARE found more than 200 incidents of racist and discriminatory behavior linked to Russian football over two seasons. The Russian government disputes the figures.