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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Vinícius Júnior charges racism is ‘normal’ in Spain

Real Madrid’s Vinícius Júnior pointing out a group of Valencia fans who he said called him a monkey.

By Tariq Panja

Vinícius Júnior has had enough.

The Real Madrid forward, a magnet for racist chants from the stands in Spanish stadiums for the past two seasons, took to social media after the latest attack against him Sunday, when he was called a monkey by fans in Valencia. This time, he took aim not only at his abusers but also at Spain itself.

“It wasn’t the first time, nor the second, nor the third,” Vinícius wrote in a post on his Twitter and Instagram accounts. “Racism is normal in La Liga. The competition thinks it’s normal, the federation does too and the opponents encourage it.” Spain, he said, was becoming known in his native Brazil “as a country of racists.”

On Sunday, Vinícius was met by fans chanting the word “mono” — monkey — before he even stepped off the Real Madrid bus outside the Mestalla stadium in Valencia. The match was briefly halted in the 71st minute as he pointed out some of his abusers to the referee, and an anti-racism statement — part of a league protocol for such incidents — was read to the crowd over the stadium loudspeakers. By the end, though, it was Vinícius who was cast as the villain: He received a red card in the dying minutes of injury time after scuffling with an opponent who had charged at him.

Bouts of racial abuse echoing through the stands in Spanish soccer stadiums are not uncommon or new, but they have become particularly pointed toward Vinícius, who has emerged as one of the league’s marquee players since the departures of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

In a statement announcing an investigation into the events Sunday in Valencia, La Liga acknowledged it had reported nine separate incidents of racist abuse against Vinícius in the past two seasons alone. By then, the player had taken to social media, where he wrote that the attacks on him were tarnishing Spain’s image around the world.

“A beautiful nation, which welcomed me and which I love, but which agreed to export the image of a racist country to the world,” he wrote. “I’m sorry for the Spaniards who don’t agree, but today, in Brazil, Spain is known as a country of racists.”

He even suggested a failure to act against racism could drive him from the country.

The reaction to what occurred at the Mestalla brought new scrutiny on Spanish soccer’s handling of racism inside stadiums. In a television interview immediately after the match, Real Madrid’s coach, Carlo Ancelloti, reacted incredulously when he was asked to talk about the game. “I don’t want to talk about football,” he said. “I want to about what happened here.”

In a news conference that followed, local journalists tried to correct Ancelloti’s assessment that the entire stadium was responsible, telling him he had misheard the chanting. Then officials from Valencia issued denials of widespread racism in the stands, despite videos online appearing to show large sections of the crowd chanting “mono.” Some reporters suggested to Ancelloti that a majority of supporters had actually been chanting “tonto,” a word that means silly in Spanish. “Whether it was ‘mono’ or ‘tonto’, the referee stopped the game to open the racism protocol,” Ancelotti replied. “He wouldn’t do that if they just chanted ‘tonto.’ Speak to the referee.”

Within hours, La Liga’s chief executive, Javier Tebas, was engaged in a back-and-forth exchange with Vinícius on Twitter. In it, Tebas defended Spain, detailed the efforts the league had made to tackle racist behavior and scolded Vinícius for what Tebas said was a failure to show up to two meetings to discuss the abuse he had received.

Tebas’ statement led to a furious response from the player.

“Once again, instead of criticizing racists, the president of La Liga appears on social media to attack me,” Vinícius wrote. “As much as you talk and pretend not to read, the image of your championship has been hit by this. See the responses to your posts and you will have a surprise. Omitting yourself only makes you equal to racists.”

The incident drew criticism, and messages of support, from around the world.

Speaking at a news conference at the close of a Group of 7 summit in Japan, Brazil’s president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, said he wanted to send a message of solidarity to Vinícius, saying it was “unjust” that he “gets insulted at every stadium where he plays.”

“It’s not possible, in the middle of the 21st century, to have such strong racial prejudice in so many football stadiums,” Lula said.

Current and former players also rallied around Vinícius, taking aim at the authorities in Spain for not doing more to stamp out racism, which some commentators in the country have routinely described as merely an effort to gain an advantage on the field.

Kylian Mbappé, who almost moved to Spain last season to join Vinícius in Madrid, posted a message of support on Instagram. He was joined by Neymar, a Brazilian star who also faced racial abuse when he played in Spain for Barcelona.

La Liga issued a statement detailing what it said were its efforts to stamp out racism in its stadiums. The league said it was working with authorities in Valencia to investigate what took place, and it vowed to take legal action if any hate crime was identified.

The latest incident will mean new scrutiny on Spanish soccer at a time it is looking for global support to secure the hosting rights to the 2030 World Cup as part of a joint effort with Portugal and Morocco.

“La Liga has been fighting against this kind of behavior for years, as well as promoting the positive values of sport, not only on the field of play, but also off it,” the league said.

Still, it is limited in the type of penalties it can levy against clubs. Stadium closures, for example, can be sanctioned only by the national soccer federation, which by midday Monday was silent about the events in Valencia.

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