Brazilian government stands up for footballer Vinícius Júnior, victim of racism in Spain

Brazilian footballer Vinícius Júnior, who plays for Read Madrid, faced racist abuse from spectators during a match with Valencia. While he has received a lot of solidarity from fans, his club, and the Brazilian government, the response of the president of the Spanish League has been widely criticized

May 23, 2023 by Brasil de Fato
Racism in football
(Photo: via Brasil de Fato)

The star football player from Brazil, Vinícius Júnior, was the victim of a racist episode on Sunday, May 21, in Spain during a match between his team Real Madrid and Valencia. Before and during the match, Vinícius was called “mono” (“monkey”, in Spanish) by the opposing fans. Vinícius took to social media to condemn the incident and the passive attitude of the officials of the Spanish League (LaLiga) towards racism faced by him and other Black players. 

In response, the president of LaLiga, Javier Tebas, attempted to undermine the incident and wrote on Sunday, “Before criticizing and offending the Spanish league, it is necessary that you inform yourself properly. Do not allow yourself to be manipulated and try to understand well the skills of each one and the work we have done together.”

Tebas used Twitter again to attack the Brazilian player on Monday. Denying the obvious, he said that Spain and the country’s soccer league are not racist. And, in an attempt to minimize the episode, he said that the league had denounced nine cases of racism in the current season, eight of them against the Brazilian player, saying that racism is “extremely (case) specific.”

The manager’s position is not surprising. The Spaniard born in Costa Rica has openly declared himself as a supporter of Vox, a Spanish extreme-right party with direct links to former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

Racists go unpunished in Spanish soccer

As Vinícius pointed out, “the work” of the Spanish league in the fight against racism basically boils down to creating hashtags. No effective measures have been taken to combat the repeated attacks suffered by him in stadiums and elsewhere in Spain. The clubs involved and the attackers have not suffered any relevant punishment.

“Once again, instead of criticizing racists, the president of LaLiga appears on social media to attack me. No matter how much you talk and pretend not to read, the image of your league is shaken,” Vinícius tweeted. “Omitting yourself only makes you equal to racists. I am not your friend to talk to about racism,” he continued.

The episode generated reactions from all over the world — from within and outside football, with the Brazilian athlete’s stance receiving wide support. All the main clubs in the country have spoken out denouncing the racism, asking for answers, and offering support to the player. 

After participating in the G7 meeting in Japan, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva took a position on the case and asked the entities responsible for soccer to take effective measures. “I think it is important that FIFA, the Spanish League, and the leagues of other countries take serious measures. We cannot allow fascism and racism to take over inside soccer stadiums,” he said.

Real Madrid, Vinicius’ club, said it requested the Attorney General’s Office of Spain take action, stressing that it considers that the attacks constitute a hate crime and discrimination. The president of the club, Florentino Pérez, met with Vinícius on Monday, May 22.

Brazilian government takes action

Brazil’s Minister of Racial Equality, Anielle Franco, said on Monday, May 22, that the Brazilian government was in contact with Spanish authorities to deal with the racist aggression.

Anielle, who was a professional volleyball player, expressed solidarity with the footballer and said she got emotional when commenting on the case. She said she spoke to a relative of the player after Sunday’s episode, and added that she was already in contact with other people close to him as there were several other racist attacks on the athlete this year.

The Brazilian press has reported that the racist chorus in the city of Valencia was at least the tenth episode of racial hatred against the 22-year-old player since 2021.

“As long as I have blood running through my veins, as long as I am in charge of…the Ministry of Racial Equality, with the Federal Government, President Lula, we will take care of the Black Brazilian people, whether here or abroad, because if there is one thing that plagues our Black community, it is racism,” she said.

“We don’t want this to reach a much larger scale than it already has. This is enough.”

According to Anielle, contact between representatives of the governments of Brazil and Spain began as early as Sunday night. The minister has already been to Spain twice in these first months of her mandate, and she signed a memorandum of understanding between the governments to combat racism.

The minister said that both countries’ governments have been in contact with the Prosecutor’s Office to begin an investigation into LaLiga and all cases of racism. “We can’t remain in the ‘we condemn’ [phase] without [taking] concrete action,” she said. 

The Spanish Minister of Equality, Irene Montero, also spoke about the case on Monday. In an interview in the autonomous community of the Basque Country, in northern Spain, she said she condemns the repeated racist aggression against Vinícius.

“Normalizing and trivializing hate speech, denialist speeches of violence against women, and racist speeches has consequences. We have to be able to create a great social mobilization against racism and xenophobia that protects our society,” she said.

Real Madrid thanks Lula

In a joint note published by the ministries of Sports, Racial Equality, Foreign Affairs, Justice and Public Safety, and Human Rights and Citizenship, the Brazilian government formally repudiated the attacks suffered by the player, and reinforced the cooperation with the Spanish government to curb the aggression. This declaration came after President Lula’s remarks in Japan condemning the attacks.

Vinícius’ club, Real Madrid, thanked the Brazilian president after the requests for measures to combat the problem. In an official statement published on Monday (the second formal manifestation of the club on the subject), the club also expressed thanks for the demonstrations of “affection and solidarity” coming from around the world, and called for the country’s soccer leaders to take a stand.

This article is based on reports from Brasil de Fato.