Spanish football 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 following insults hurled at their Brazilian forward Vinicius Jr.
The top-flight LaLiga is under pressure to do more to combat racism after Brazilian President Lula da Silva, FIFA and fellow stars such as France forward Kylian Mbappe, Rio Ferdinand and Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton voiced support for Vinicius.
Lula expressed his solidarity with Vinicius, calling him “Real Madrid’s best player”. “I hope FIFA and other institutions take the necessary steps to ensure racism doesn’t take hold of football”, he tweeted.
In a social media post on Monday, Vinicius Jr. called racist abuse “inhuman” and asked sponsors and broadcasters to hold LaLiga accountable.
“What is missing to criminalize these people? And punish the clubs on a sports level? Why don’t the sponsors charge LaLiga? Don’t the televisions bother to broadcast this barbarity every weekend?”, Vinicius said.
His statements 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 were allegedly hurling racist comments at him.
“The problem is very serious, and press releases don’t work anymore. Neither does blaming me to justify criminal acts,” he added.
Today the football star quote tweeted an account that published footage from a game in the 1990s that showed racist signs in the stands. “1997. Racism in Spanish stadiums existed before I was even born. What’s changed since?”, he wrote.
Vinicius’s home town of Rio de Janeiro also showed their support. On Monday night, the lights of its famous (Christ the Redeemer) Cristo Redentor statue were turned off in a show of support. Rio mayor Eduardo Paes tweeted that it was meant as an symbolic act in the global struggle against racism, and that Rio de Janeiro “will receive everyone with open arms, but will never tolerate discrimination”.
A hate crime investigation was opened after the incident. Police detained seven men on Tuesday over separate alleged hate crime incidents against the football player.
Four men were arrested in Madrid, police said, three of whom were members of “a radical group of fans of a Madrid club”, who were previously flagged during matches as “high risk” to help curb violence during games. Three men were also arrested in Valencia for racist conduct aimed at Vinicius in a match between Valencia and Real Madrid
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 criticize and slander LaLiga”.
“The first thing is to recognize 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, and its foreign ministry said in a statement that 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,” Sanchez added.
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 labeled Tebas’s comments “irresponsible.”
“Probably Vinicius is more right than we think and we all need to do more about racism,” Rubiales said.
Real Madrid said on Monday they have lodged a hate crime complaint following the incident – the tenth episode of alleged racism involving the young football star that has been reported to prosecutors this season, according to LaLiga.
Valencia football club said in a statement 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 number 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 anti-racism 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 behavior can be fined up to 4,000 euros (US$4,403) 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 La Liga to “take real action”.
Seven-times Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton sent Vinicius a virtual fist bump on Instagram, adding: “Standing with you @vinjr.”
FIFA President Gianni Infantino called for LaLiga to enforce a rule that penalizes clubs with points deductions if racist chants persist. He added that racists should be banned for life from stadiums worldwide. Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez called for similarly drastic measures: “You have to stop the match… One insult and everyone goes home.”