March 15, 2015

MOSCOW (AP) A top coach in Russia has warned that racist soccer fans are damaging the image of the 2018 World Cup host.

Zenit St. Petersburg coach Andre Villas-Boas called Torpedo Moscow supporters a ''disgrace'' for racial abuse aimed at his star striker Hulk, who is black, during a Russian Premier League match on Sunday.

The Brazil forward, who scored in the 1-1 draw, was the victim of monkey chants from home fans. In response, Hulk blew a kiss at the stands.

''The insults, the racist insults to Hulk, they go around the world and this is the image of the Russian Premier League,'' Villas-Boas said.

Hulk said he was saddened by the incident.

''It's impossible to understand, accept or explain things like this,'' he said in comments on Zenit's website.

''It's not the first time I've encountered these kinds of incidents, but every time, again and again, I have to call for all players to be respected.''

On his decision to blow a kiss towards his abusers, he said: ''What else can you do in this situation, how can you not react with a smile? If I treat all fans with respect, then I'd like the same reaction in return.''

Hulk, who joined Zenit in 2012, has been targeted by Russian fans before. Spartak Moscow's supporters were banned for one game over monkey chants directed at the striker in September.

In December, Hulk alleged he had been racially abused by Russian referee Alexei Matyunin during a league game. The referee was cleared last month by a Russian Football Union panel, which ruled there was insufficient evidence of what exactly was said.

Torpedo itself has twice been forced to close part of its stadium this season as punishment for racist behavior by fans. Both cases involved monkey chants, with Dynamo Moscow's Christopher Samba the victim in September and FC Rostov's African players targeted two months later.

The latest incident Sunday came less than a month after a report by two anti-discrimination organizations found more than 200 cases of racist and discriminatory behavior linked to Russian soccer over two seasons.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter spoke out on racism in Russia following the publication of the report, telling The Associated Press that ''if it does not stop then there must be some sanctions.''

The RFU's general secretary Anatoly Vorobyov told the AP that ''not everything is going smoothly'' in the fight against racism and that disciplinary measures were sometimes not used strongly enough.

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