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EXPLAINED: The racism problem that has blighted Spanish football

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AFP/The Local - [email protected]
EXPLAINED: The racism problem that has blighted Spanish football
Real Madrid's Brazilian forward Vinicius Junior has suffered racial abuse in Spain's La Liga. Photo: JOSE JORDAN / AFP

Real Madrid star Vinicius was racially abused in Spain's top flight football league during a game against Valencia on Sunday May 21st, but this is not an isolated incident and has happened many times before. Does Spain's La Liga have a racism problem?

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The 22-year-old Brazilian international forward was targeted during a 1-0 defeat at Valencia and was later sent off.

Vinicius issued a strongly worded statement afterwards saying that La Liga "belongs to racists" and several Brazilian players past and present offered their support.

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva condemned the abuse, telling a news conference at the close of the G7 summit in Hiroshima, Japan: "He was attacked. He was called a 'monkey'."

Not the first time

Vinicius has frequently been targeted in La Liga and the latest incident came at Valencia's Mestalla stadium when he was racially abused by home supporters.

Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said Spanish football needed to be prepared to halt matches.

"The Spanish league has a problem, and Vinicius is not the problem. Vinicius is the victim. There's a very serious problem," Ancelotti said.

"The fact I thought about taking him off because of the racist atmosphere does not seem good to me," Ancelotti told reporters. "What has happened today has happened before, but not like that, it's unacceptable."

Writing on Instagram, Vinicius said Spain was viewed as "a country of racists" in his homeland. "The prize for the racists today is that they have sent me off. It's not football, it's La Liga," he said.

"The league that once belonged to Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Cristiano (Ronaldo) and Messi now belongs to racists. It wasn't the first time, nor the second, nor the third. Racism is normal in La Liga. The competition thinks it's normal, the federation does too and the opponents encourage it,” he added.

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

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Vinicius has been racially abused at several stadiums this season in Spain and an effigy of him was hung from a bridge in the Spanish capital by Atletico Madrid fans.

Just two months ago in March 2023, La Liga reported racist insults aimed at Real Madrid player Vinicius Junior during his team's clash with Betis, and back in September 2022 Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez condemned Atlético Madrid for not taking a stand against the racist chants from their supporters again aimed at Vinicius.

In December after being abused during a win at Real Valladolid Vinicius hit out at La Liga for continuing "to do nothing" about racists at Spanish matches.

"Racists keep going to games and watching the greatest club in the world up close and La Liga continues to do nothing," Vinicius said.

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Reactions 

La Liga has filed legal complaints to Spanish authorities on multiple occasions this season, with the league pledging on Sunday to do so again after investigating. La Liga said in a statement it would investigate and take "appropriate legal action" if a hate crime was committed, calling on people to submit any relevant footage.

Spain has a "problem" with racism, the head of the country's football federation said Monday, May 22nd. "We have a problem, we must first recognise that we have a problem of behaviour, of education, or racism," Luis Rubiales told reporters at the federation's headquarters near Madrid.

Spanish prosecutors have also opened an investigation over racist chants a judicial source has confirmed. The prosecutor's office in the eastern city of Valencia where the match took place is investigating the incident as a possible "hate crime", the source told AFP.

Valencia also said they would investigate and "take the most severe measures".

"Valencia CF wishes to publicly condemn any type of insult, attack or disqualification in football," a club said in a statement.

La Liga said they have been "proactive" in previous cases of racism against Vinicius, filing nine complaints with relevant authorities and prosecutors.

Former England defender Rio Ferdinand said Vinicius needed more protection from Spain's football authorities. "I see pain, I see disgust, I see him needing help," he wrote on Instagram.

The forward's fellow Brazilian international Richarlison, retired legend Ronaldo and music icon Gilberto Gil were among those who condemned the racist treatment he has received in Spain.  

"Another episode of racism in La Liga. And once again Vini Jr. is the victim. How long will this last?" the 46-year-old Ronaldo wrote on Instagram. "As long as there's impunity and complicity... Enough."

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History of racism in La Liga 

This type of racial abuse is not new in Spanish football, however, and has been going on for almost a decade.

In 2004 thousands of Spanish fans shouted racial insults at black players during an England-Spain match at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid. This prompted outrage in Britain and threatened to escalate into a diplomatic row, with both prime ministers at the time – Tony Blair and José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero condemning the abuse.

Racism in Spain is a wider issue 

Alba García Martín, a member of the anti-racism NGO SOS Racismo, has said that Spain has a very lackadaisical and dismissive approach that allows it to distance itself from issues of racism, which have very rarely held any importance in the national agenda. 

In fact, Spain is one of only two Council of Europe countries not to have its own independent national racism watchdog, along with the micro-state of San Marino.

Spain’s National Security Council warned the government about a rise in xenophobia and racist hate crimes back in 2019. There have also been numerous counts of racial discrimination towards prospective tenants and home-buyers. 

“The immigration law is racist to its core. It is a law that does not allow you to regularise your migration status for three years, it pushes immigrants to employment off-the-books and is a law that does not provide you any kind of rights as a citizen," García Martín states. 

“All the other racial issues derive from this law. There is no anti-racist legislation, for example, for crimes related to racism. There are just no anti-racist laws,” she adds. 

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