Author: Tom Phillips in Rio de Janeiro and Jon Henley
Publish date: 2023-05-22 12:30:33
Spanish prosecutors have opened an investigation over racist chants hurled at Real Madrid’s Brazilian forward Vinícius Júnior during a weekend match, as the head of Spain’s football federation admitted the country had a “problem” with racism.
The prosecutor’s office in the eastern city of Valencia, where the game took place, was investigating the incident as a possible “hate crime”, judicial sources said, after Luis Rubiales of the Royal Spanish Football Federation called for zero tolerance.
Officials, players and former players in Brazil and Spain showed solidarity with 22-year-old Vinícius, who on Sunday considered leaving the field after facing racist taunts from fans during Real Madrid’s 1-0 loss at Valencia in the Spanish league.
“We have a problem of behaviour, of education, of racism,” Rubiales said. “And as long as there is one fan or one group of fans making insults based on someone’s sexual orientation or skin colour or belief, then we have a serious problem.”
Valencia said it had banned one of its fans for life and was looking to identify others. “The club has analysed all the available footage, working alongside the authorities as rapidly as possible to clarify what happened,” it said in a statement.
Real Madrid said it strongly condemned the incident, which it believed to be a hate crime. “These events represent a direct attack on the social and democratic model of coexistence of our state based on the rule of law,” the club said.
Speaking after Sunday’s game, Real Madrid’s Italian manager, Carlo Ancelotti, said the racist abuse – in which Vinícius was repeatedly called a “monkey” – highlighted how “something bad is happening in this league”.
The Spanish league has made nine similar formal complaints for racist abuse against Vinícius over the past two seasons, most of which have been shelved. Fans have been fined and banned from stadiums, but so far only a Mallorca supporter may end up going on trial for allegedly racially insulting the Brazilian during a game.
The first ever trial of a fan accused of racial abuse in Spanish professional football is expected to happen at some point this year in a case involving the Athletic Bilbao forward Iñaki Williams, who was insulted by an Espanyol supporter during a match in 2020.
“Nothing will happen, because this has already taken place several times in other stadiums and nothing has been done,” Ancelotti said on Monday. “Nothing. We have to evaluate this situation, because it is very serious.”
Vinícius himself claimed Spain was now known “as a country of racists” in Brazil. “Racism is normal in La Liga,” he wrote on Twitter. “This championship which was once that of Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Cristiano and Messi now is that of racists.”
Brazil’s president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, called on Fifa and La Liga to take “serious measures” after Sunday’s scenes at Valencia’s Mestalla stadium. “We cannot allow fascism and racism to seize control of football stadiums,” Lula said.
“It’s unjust that a poor kid who’s done so well in life, who may be on his way to becoming the best in the world – he’s certainly the best at Real Madrid – gets insulted at every stadium where he plays,” the Brazilian president said in Japan.
Cabinet members, including the justice minister, Flávio Dino, also demanded action from Spanish authorities. “This is deplorable, unacceptable and there must be consequences,” Dino tweeted.
Vinícius also received widespread support from within football. The Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois said he heard “monkey noises” after about 20 minutes of the game, adding he would have walked off with the Brazilian if he had chosen to stop playing.
“We cannot tolerate these things,” Courtois said. The French forward Kylian Mbappé posted: “You’re not alone.”
Fifa’s president, Gianni Infantino, expressed his full solidarity with Vinícius, who has been in Spain for five years. “There is no place for racism in football or in society and Fifa stands by all players who have found themselves in such a situation,” he said.
Former players were also outraged. The former England defender Rio Ferdinand asked how many more times Vinícius would be “subjected to this shit. I see pain, I see disgust, I see him needing help … and the authorities don’t do shit,” he said.
The former Brazil striker Ronaldo, who spent five seasons playing for Real Madrid in the 2000s, said: “Another case of racism against Vinícius in the Spanish league. Until when? As long as there is impunity, there will be racism.”
Javier Tebas, the Spanish league president, hit out at Vinícius for attacking La Liga, saying the player had not shown up for talks on the subject of racism that he had requested himself. Vinícius was highly critical of Tebas’s stance.
“The image of your championship is shaken … All your omission achieves is making you equal to the racists … I want action and punishment,” wrote the player, who was sent off in the last minutes of the match after being held in a headlock by a Valencia player.
Associated Press contributed to this report