SAINT PETERSBURG, July 24- Brazil and Zenit St Petersburg forward Hulk has been dropped from Saturday’s star-studded lineup for the 2018 World Cup qualifying draw just 24 hours before the draw takes place, FIFA confirmed on Friday.
The 28-year-old was set to feature alongside the likes of compatriot Ronaldo and Samuel Eto’o, but has been replaced by former Russia captain Alexey Smertin.
FIFA and the Local Oragnising Committee (LOC) attributed Hulk’s absence from the ceremony due to his commitments with Zenit, who play away to Ural in Yekaterinburg over 1,000 miles east of Saint Petersburg on Sunday.
“Hulk was among those who agreed to participate, but very recently we found out that the coach of Zenit made the decision based on purely sporting reasons to withdraw this player from taking part in the draw show,” said the LOC’s CEO Alexey Sorokin.
“I reiterate the decision was purely of a sporting nature because Zenit has a game on Sunday in Yekaterinburg.”
However, Hulk has also been an outspoken critic of the problems Russian football faces with racism and suggested it could blight the World Cup in three years’ time.
“If this happens during the 2018 World Cup it may become a serious problem as the whole world will be able to watch it,” he said earlier this week.
Former Arsenal midfielder Emmanuel Frimpong was the latest player to claim he had suffered racial abuse in Russia whilst playing for Ufa in the season opener of the Russian Premier League against Spartak Moscow last weekend.
The Ghanaian was sent off after just half an hour for reacting with an obscene gesture towards the Spartak fans.
Frimpong was banned for two matches, but no further action has been taken against Spartak.
“Been banned for two games acceptable on my part for the gesture no problems with that,” he said on his official Twitter account.
“But for the Russian FA to say they didn’t hear or see any evidence of racism is beyond a joke.”