By Associated Press - Thursday, April 23, 2015

MOSCOW (AP) - A former Zenit St. Petersburg youth player says the Russian soccer club froze him out because he is black.

St. Petersburg-born defender Brian Idowu, who is of Russian and Nigerian heritage, spent several years in Zenit’s academy but alleges he was told that he would never play for the first team because of the color of his skin.

“Things never got further than training sessions with the youth team. Then it was hinted to me that with my skin color the path to the main team was unfeasible,” he said on Thursday in comments on the website of his current team Amkar Perm.

“The reason was the fans, who don’t like dark-skinned players.”

Idowu said the fans used racism as part of their identity, a way to differentiate themselves from rival teams like CSKA Moscow and Spartak Moscow, both of which have often signed black players.

While two of Zenit’s current stars, Brazilian striker Hulk and Belgian midfielder Axel Witsel, are of mixed race, the club has never fielded a player from an African country.

Idowu left Zenit in 2010, when he was 18, without playing a game for the first team, and before Hulk and Witsel joined the club.

Following a move to Amkar, Idowu’s career stalled. This season, at 22, he has broken into the relegation-threatened Russian Premier League side.

That included a substitute appearance against Zenit in St. Petersburg in August, when he was received “in a friendly way” by local fans, he said on Thursday.

Zenit has been linked with racism before, notably in 2012 when one fan group published a manifesto demanding the club not sign any black or gay players.

Former coach Dick Advocaat also said intolerant fans prevented him from signing black players.

Zenit did not respond to a request to comment on Idowu’s allegations.

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