Liverpool managing director Ian Ayre has confirmed the club will take action in the event of any racist abuse by Zenit St Petersburg fans. The Reds, who travel to Russia for their last 32 Europa League clash on Thursday, are keen to ensure the safety of players and fans ahead of the game.
Concerns over travelling to St Petersburg follow a manifesto published by a Zenit supporters group in December last year. The document calls for non-white and homosexual players to be excluded from the Zenit team. Ayre has expressed his concerns over the document.
"It's been a major concern for us, so I wrote to UEFA very recently expressing our concerns to them - and also to Zenit themselves," Ayre told his club's official Web site, "The most we can do is make our feelings clear ahead of the game. I'm certainly hopeful that the right people will take the right action to ensure it's a game where we don't have that type of incident."
Aside from the manifesto, the club - and Russian teams in general - have been embroiled in racism-related controversies over the past few years. In March 2011, a Zenit fan offered Anzhi Makhachkala defender Robero Carlos a banana before the game. Another victim of banana throwing was Congolese defender Christopher Samba, who moved from Anzhi to QPR in January. Samba labelled Zenit fans "racist" and "living in another century".
Ayre hopes no such incident occurs during the game but in the event it does, the players have been briefed as to what the club deems the acceptable response. The Liverpool chief said the club would not accept any racial abuse and should they occur, it would be dealt with off the pitch.
"We do plan to speak to the players about it," Ayre pointed out, "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."
The Liverpool squad travelling to Russia includes Glen Johnson, Raheem Sterling and Andre Wisdom, all of whom have been instructed to inform the referee in the event of any abuse.
"The referee would be at the forefront of that if there's something on the pitch," Ayre added, "Anything that happens off the pitch, then we'll work very closely with the authorities."
To mitigate the possibility of any problems off the field, Liverpool have issued directives to fans travelling for the game. The game is scheduled to kick off at 5pm GMT.