Spanish football admits racism problem after Vinicius incident

Real Madrid lodge hate crime complaint over racial abuse

Vinicius Jr of Real Madrid remonstrates during the LaLiga Santander match against Valencia CF at Estadio Mestalla in Valencia on May 21 2023.
Vinicius Jr of Real Madrid remonstrates during the LaLiga Santander match against Valencia CF at Estadio Mestalla in Valencia on May 21 2023.
Image: Mateo Villalba/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Spanish soccer has a racism problem, its football federation chief Luis Rubiales said on Monday, echoing criticism by Brazil after Real Madrid lodged a race crime complaint after insults hurled at their Brazilian forward Vinicius Jr.

The top-flight LaLiga is under pressure to do more to combat racism after the Brazilian president, Fifa and fellow sporting stars such as France forward Kylian Mbappe, Rio Ferdinand and Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton voiced support for Vinicius.

In a social media post, Vinicius Jr called racist abuse “inhuman” and asked sponsors and broadcasters to hold LaLiga accountable.

“What is missing to criminalise these people? And punish the clubs sportively? Why don't the sponsors charge LaLiga? Don't the televisions bother to broadcast this barbarity every weekend?” Vinicius said.

The statement came a day after the match against Valencia at the Mestalla stadium was stopped for 10 minutes after the 22-year-old Brazilian striker pointed out fans who he said were hurling racist comments at him.

“The problem is very serious, and press releases don't work any more. Neither does blaming me to justify criminal acts,” he added.

Brazil's Christ the Redeemer statue, Rio de Janeiro's iconic landmark, had its lights switched off on Monday night in a show of solidarity for the Real Madrid forward.

Vinicius, Real Madrid's second-top scorer this season in all competitions (23) behind Karim Benzema (29), had previously described Spain as a “country of racists” after the match against Valencia on Sunday.

That provoked a response from LaLiga President Javier Tebas, who said on Twitter that enough was being done and that Vinicius should inform himself “before you criticise and slander LaLiga”.

“The first thing is to recognise that we have a problem in our country,” Rubiales said at a press conference in Madrid on Monday. It is “a serious problem that also stains an entire team, an entire fan base, an entire club, an entire country”.

The Brazilian government on Monday summoned the Spanish ambassador to explain the incident. Its foreign ministry after “yet another inadmissible episode” it had concluded that effective measures had not been taken by the Spanish authorities to prevent such acts of racism.

Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Twitter there was “zero tolerance for racism in football”.

“Sport is founded on the values of tolerance and respect. Hatred and xenophobia should have no place in our football and in our society,” he said.

Spain's Sports Council previously said in a statement that it would study footage of the game to single out any perpetrators for prosecution.

Videos posted on social media and verified by Reuters showed hundreds of Valencia fans singing “Vinicius is a monkey” as the Real Madrid bus arrived at the stadium before the match.

“I am sorry for those Spaniards who disagree but today, in Brazil, Spain is known as a country of racists,” Vinicius Jr wrote on Twitter.

Rubiales labelled Tebas's comments “irresponsible.”

“Probably Vinicius is more right than we think and we all need to do more about racism,” Rubiales then admitted at his briefing.

Real Madrid said on Monday they have lodged a hate crime complaint after the incident — the 10th episode of alleged racism involving the young soccer star that has been reported to prosecutors this season, according to LaLiga.

Valencia football club said it had identified one fan and was working with police to confirm the identity of others who could face punishments including lifetime stadium bans.

Spanish police continue to investigate a possible hate crime against Vinicius Jr after a mannequin wearing his No 20 shirt was hung from a bridge outside Real Madrid's training ground in January ahead of the club's derby match with Atletico Madrid.

Prosecutors dropped a complaint filed for racist chants aimed at the player in September during another game against Atletico Madrid.

The prosecutor archived the case because the chants of “monkey” were only said a couple of times and “only lasted a few seconds,” highlighting how Spain's penal code makes it difficult to prosecute racist incidents at football games.

“LaLiga uses these legal cases to wash its hands, even though it actually has the power to make decisions and impose sanctions by itself,” said Moha Gerehou, a Spanish journalist and antiracism activist.

“LaLiga should be able to close stadiums and force a number of matches to be played behind closed doors in these cases, as that puts the pressure on the clubs and the fans themselves.”

Spanish prosecutors officially investigated three cases of racist acts during the 2021-22 season, according to the Interior Ministry. Under current rules, people found guilty of racist behaviour can be fined up to €4,000 and banned from stadiums for a year.

There is growing momentum for Spain to do more to tackle the problem. Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva called on Fifa and LaLiga to “take real action”.