Vinícius still a target for racial abuse ahead of Spain's 'One Skin' game against Brazil

AP , Monday 25 Mar 2024

Vinícius Júnior clenched his right fist and raised it high above his head after scoring at Mestalla Stadium, posing for a moment to make sure everyone noticed.

Vinicius
Brazil s midfielder #07 Vinicius Jr celebrates after setting up Brazil s striker #21 Endrick to score the opening goal of the international friendly football match between England and Brazil at Wembley stadium in north London on March 23, 2024. AP

 

The symbolic gesture in early March came nearly a year after the Real Madrid forward was on that same field with tears in his eyes after being racially abused by some Valencia fans.

That incident sparked an outpouring of support for the Brazil forward, who is Black, and set off widespread calls for action by Spanish authorities and society in general.

At the time, many saw it as a turning point in the fight against racism in Spanish soccer.

But some 10 months later, Vinícius has continued to be subjected to racist abuse in Spain despite the initial uproar that accompanied the incident at Mestalla.

That lack of progress will be noted when Spain hosts Brazil at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium on Tuesday. The international friendly was originally set up under the theme “One Skin” following the racial abuse aimed at Vinícius last year.

“We haven’t fully advanced,” said Esteban Ibarra, president of the Movement Against Intolerance, Racism and Xenophobia in Spain. “There was some response, but it wasn’t a significant step forward. In the end, if there still is a dominant feeling of impunity, the fans will keep acting the same way as before.”

The Spain-Brazil game is set to take place just days after a new wave of racist and hate insults targeted Vinícius in matches in Spain.

On the same night on March 2 when Vinícius gave the Black Power salute at Mestalla, Brazilian media reports said a child in the stadium had called the player a monkey. The Spanish league was looking into a video of the incident, though it wasn’t clear from the images published online if Vinícius was targeted.

A couple of weeks ago, there were reports of racist chants targeting Vinícius outside the stadiums of Atletico Madrid and Barcelona before Champions League games that didn’t even involve Real Madrid.

Vinícius retweeted a video that showed a few Atletico fans jumping and chanting “Vinícius chimpanzee,” and a day earlier some Barcelona fans allegedly chanted “Die, Vinícius.”

“I hope you have already thought about their punishment,” Vinícius said at the time on X, formerly Twitter, and tagged the Champions League and European soccer governing body UEFA. “It’s a sad reality that happens even in games where I’m not present!”

There were also reported hate chants of “Die, Vinícius” in Madrid’s Spanish league match at Osasuna on March 16. Real Madrid called the game’s referee “negligent” for not including the chants in his match report. The club also reported them — as well as those alleged chants by Atletico and Barcelona fans — to the prosecutor’s office for hate crimes.

"We must continue to fight to eradicate racism and it is a daily struggle to prevent players like Vinícius or any other from experiencing episodes of intolerance,” Spain defender Álex Grimaldo said Sunday.

Some of Vinícius' opponents contend his aggressive playing style — not uncommon for a forward — and clashes with the opposition have made him a bigger target for fans. Vinícius often gets into verbal altercations and more than once was seen responding to fans' provocations from the stands.

There was some movement in the cases against fans accused of insulting Vinícius last year, including the four hardcore Atletico fans who allegedly hanged an effigy of the player off a highway bridge in Madrid.

They were taken into custody in the wave of arrests sparked by the incident against Vinícius in Mestalla, and prosecutors have sought four-year prison sentences against them.

Other cases against fans who allegedly insulted Vinícius and other players are with the courts, but Spain is still waiting for the first actual trial to take place against a fan accused of racial abuse in professional soccer. The case against an Espanyol fan accused of racially insulting Athletic Bilbao forward Iñaki Williams in 2020 was expected last year but has yet to take place.

A man accused of calling Vinícius a monkey during a league game in Mallorca last season also was facing the possibility of going to trial. Both the fan and Vinícius spoke before a judge last year, and Vinícius said he would not accept just an apology.

The Spanish government has highlighted the work of a permanent committee set up to fight violence, racism, xenophobia and intolerance in sports. The committee, which includes the Spanish league, authorities and the soccer federation, has previously punished clubs with fines and issued stadium bans, as well as keeping fans from attending matches for long periods and making them pay hefty fines

The Spanish league has been active in denouncing racism to prosecutors.

League president Javier Tebas said La Liga’s fight against racism “has become more visible following the dimension of the incident with Vinicius,” though “intense efforts have been underway for many years.”

“The strategy or actions will never be enough until we eradicate this scourge, but I can guarantee that the fight to end racism and any display of hatred inside and outside our stadiums is an absolute priority for La Liga and the clubs,” Tebas told The Associated Press in an email.

“Society in general, and football fans in particular, are increasingly aware that these hateful attitudes are absolutely intolerable, constitute a crime, and have no place in our society,” he said. “It is always necessary to continue fighting for the eradication of any act of hatred inside and outside our stadiums because, although they represent a minority, they tarnish the image of the competition, the sport, and the country in general, and cause irreparable harm to the individuals against whom they are committed.”

Ibarra said the recurring incidents of hate crimes in soccer can be linked to the clubs’ hardcore fans who often believe they are above the law.

“Ultra groups are militants and are very committed groups,” Ibarra said. “If the ultra groups are not eradicated, the problem will continue to exist.”

Rafael Carlos de Vega, a prosecutor with Spain’s Attorney General’s Office, said the failure to punish hardcore fans usually happens because of the difficulties in identifying perpetrators when they act in larger groups, forcing some cases to be shelved.

Vega said things have improved since the incident involving Vinícius at Mestalla, and noted that since then there has been a greater involvement of prosecutors who specifically focus on hate crimes.

“The racist insults, with some exceptions, didn’t happen as much as before,” he said. “People are now convinced that those who act against someone else because of their race or color will be punished. There has to be awareness in society. And when something does happen, we need to punish those responsible.”

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