Vinícius Júnior’s apartheid scandal is sparking a heated debate in Spain

MADRID — Repeated racist abuse of Brazilian soccer player Vinícius Júnior has sparked a major controversy in the Spain about tolerance of racism in an increasingly diverse society both inside and outside the field.

Since the start of the season in August, the Real Madrid winger has been victimized by fans of at least five clubs, including the posting of a photo of the Black player on a bridge by a group of Atletico Madrid fans in January.

“Racism is normal in LaLiga,” Vinícius said on Spanish football’s top flight on Instagram and Twitter after being targeted by Valencia fans’ monkey chants during Sunday’s game. “The race thinks it’s normal, just like society, and the opposition encourages it.”

Through his presence on the television, Vinícius has repeatedly referred to the racist views that are said to be widespread in the country of southern Europe where one in three children are born to foreign parents, many from Latin America and Africa, and the population is growing. of different kinds.

Politicians were quick to jump into the fray, dividing themselves along ideological lines. “Tolerance of racism in football,” wrote Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez. “Hate and xenophobia should have no place in our football or society.”

The president of the Madrid region Isabel Díaz Ayuso, who has been a lightning rod for the cultural wars before elections Sunday, he responded that Spain “is not a racist country,” adding that anyone who said that “lied.”

But Spain’s large black community has been complaining about racism in a region that has been predominantly non-white since the 1990s, and where they feel little has been done by leftist or conservative governments. Reports of racist crimes rose 31% from 2020 to 2021, the last year for which official data was available, and racism is the most common type of crime reported in Spain.

Rita Bosaho, who oversees competition law at Spain’s Ministry of Justice, urged the government to enact a long-overdue anti-discrimination law “so that a young person does not have to face this again,” referring to the abuse Vinícius experienced.

Spanish author and anti-apartheid activist Moha Gerehou, who is black, wrote about being repeatedly asked what country he was from despite being born in Spain, and his experiences of being harassed by the police. He said that racism was so new that it was unknown in Spain.

“Vinícius Jr has done well to raise his voice to say without a doubt what is clear: Spain is a racist country and football stadiums are no different. It is normal,” he said on Twitter.

Gerehou has previously said that Spanish people struggle to understand that racism can include refusing to enter a bar based on the color of their skin. “The problem is … that many people do not want to recognize the racism that exists in Spain,” he said.

Abraham Jiménez Enoa, a Cuban writer who moved to Spain 16 months ago, has written about the daily incidents of discrimination he has experienced – 182 so far, including being followed in shops, asking for his identification on public transport and seeing Spaniards thanking him. a blind child.

“It’s very close to Vinícius where you can see him struggling with what he’s feeling and I agree with that,” said Jiménez Enoa. monkey!’ but day by day….I have cried several times because of anger and frustration.”

Although racism is also a problem in his native Cuba, Jiménez Enoa said that he “never had superficial discrimination in the streets, in the shops, in the markets, anywhere” like in Spain.

He said: “I have never been troubled by the way my skin looks in everyday life.

Instead of being helped, Vinícius was criticized by some of the Spanish football authorities. Immediately after Sunday’s incident, LaLiga president Javier Tebas criticized the player for attacking the league, saying that Vinicius did not appear in the racism talks he requested.

“Instead of criticizing racists, the president of the league appears on television to attack me,” Vinícius said. “I am not your friend who can talk to you about racism. I want action and punishment.”

Some in Spanish football have acknowledged the rampant abuse, with Spanish Football Federation president Luis Rubiales blaming “a moral, educational, racist problem.”

Officials have been slow to crack down on fans who boo and attack Black players. Only on Tuesday four people were arrested in the effigy incident, four months after it happened. Police did not say whether the timing was related to recent criticism of Vinícius’ abuse. Three more fans were also arrested in Valencia for racism on Sunday.

Spanish player Iñaki Williams, a black player on the Basque team Athletic Bilbao, sent his support to Vinicius with the words: “Racism is not allowed in any situation.”

Williams committed similar abuse at the 2020 Games, leading to the first anti-fan abuse case in Spanish sporting history, which is expected to take place sometime this year.

Even the children’s leagues are not left out.

In March, police in Barcelona arrested a 49-year-old man for insulting a black child at a game. In contrast, a 12-year-old black boy was taunted in the Catalan town of Sant Vicenç de Castellet in September. In that case no police did anything.


Renata Brito contributed to this report from Barcelona, ​​Spain.

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