After abuse against Vinícius Júnior, Spanish soccer acknowledges it has a racism problem

MADRID (AP) — Spanish soccer is again embroiled in a racism debate after yet another case of abuse against Real Madrid forward Vinícius Júnior, with the president of Spain’s soccer federation acknowledging that the country has a racism problem and the player’s club asking authorities to investigate the latest incident as a hate crime.

Officials, players and former players showed solidarity with Vinícius, who on Sunday considered leaving the field after facing racist taunts from fans during Real Madrid’s 1-0 loss at Valencia in the Spanish league.

“We have a problem of behavior, of education, of racism,” Spanish soccer federation president Luis Rubiales said Monday. “And as long as there is one fan or one group of fans making insults based on someone’s sexual orientation or skin color or belief, then we have a serious problem. A serious problem that stains an entire team, an entire fan base and an entire country.”.

Valencia said it banned one of its fans for life and was looking to identify others who may have insulted Vinícius at Mestalla Stadium.

“From the moment that the unfortunate events occurred, the club has analyzed all the available footage, working alongside the authorities as rapidly as possible to clarify what happened in order to be able to act quickly and forcefully,” Valencia said in a statement, adding it is working with police to identify more culprits.

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Real Madrid asked authorities to investigate the abusive behavior, saying the club believed the incident to be a hate crime.

“Real Madrid strongly condemns the events that took place yesterday (Sunday) against our player,” the club said. “These events represent a direct attack on the social and democratic model of coexistence of our State based on the rule of law.”.

The Spanish league has made nine similar formal complaints for racist abuse against Vinícius over the last two seasons, but most of the cases have been shelved by prosecutors. Another complaint was expected to be made after an investigation into what happened in Valencia was completed.

Fans have been fined and banned from stadiums for their abuse, but so far only a Mallorca fan may end up going on trial for allegedly racially insulting the Brazilian during a game. The first trial against a fan accused of racial abuse in Spanish professional soccer is expected to happen at some point this year in a case involving Athletic Bilbao forward Iñaki Williams, who was insulted by an Espanyol supporter in a match in 2020.

“I’m curious to see what happens,” said Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti, who on Sunday considered taking Vinícius out of the game after he was insulted. “Nothing will happen, because this has already taken place several times in other stadiums and nothing has been done. Nothing. We have to evaluate this situation, because it is very serious.”.

Barcelona coach Xavi said there is a need to educate and punish people, and called for harsher action by soccer officials in cases of racism during matches.

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“It’s time to put an end to this,” Xavi said. “If there’s an insult, out, we stop playing, it’s over. I think it’s the message to the president of the league and the federation. We have to put an end to this. It’s the right time.”.

Vinícius, who is Black and has been subjected to repeated racist abuse since he arrived from Brazil five years ago, said after the match that the Spanish league “now belongs to racists” and that Spain “is seen as a racist country.”.

The Spanish government and soccer officials condemned the insults against Vinícius but were quick to point out they didn’t agree with the player’s generalization about Spain or its people being racist.

In the soccer world, Vinícius received nearly unconditional support.

“Full solidarity to Vinicius,” FIFA president Gianni Infantino said. “There is no place for racism in football or in society and FIFA stands by all players who have found themselves in such a situation. Events during the match between Valencia and Real Madrid show that this needs to be the case.”.

Vinícius isn’t the only player in Spain, or in European soccer, to face racist abuse. But the Brazilian has been the focus of much of the hate in recent years, particularly this season after he started dancing in his goal celebrations. In January, an effigy of the player was hung off a highway bridge in Madrid.

“You’re not alone,” France forward Kylian Mbappé said on Instagram. “We are with you and we support you.”.

Former players also quickly sided with the Brazil forward.

“Another case of racism against Vinícius in the Spanish league,” said former Brazil striker Ronaldo, who spent five seasons playing for Real Madrid in the 2000s. “Until when? As long as there is impunity, there will be racism.”.

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Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and several of his cabinet ministers backed Vinicius and were critical of Spanish soccer.

“It is not fair that a poor boy who is winning in his life, becoming one of the best in the world, certainly the best at Real Madrid, is insulted in every stadium he goes to,” Lula said.

Spanish league president Javier Tebas criticized Vinícius for attacking the league, saying the player didn’t show up for talks on the subject of racism that he had requested himself.

The league claims it only has authority to denounce cases, and that it’s up to local authorities to take action against the perpetrators and the soccer federation to punish clubs and referees. But FIFA, the sport’s governing body, updated its own disciplinary code in 2013 — with options for point deductions and mandatory relegation for teams in the most serious cases — and asked competition organizers worldwide to follow.

Vinícius wasn’t happy with Tebas’ stance.

“Instead of criticizing racists, the league president shows up on social media to attack me,” Vinícius said. “Although you may say otherwise or pretend not to notice, the image of your championship is shaken. Omitting yourself only makes you equal to the racists. I’m not your friend to talk about racism with you. I want actions and punishment.”.

AP Sports Writer Graham Dunbar in Geneva contributed to this report.

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