MADRID (AP) — Repeated racist slurs against Brazilian soccer star Vinícius Júnior have sparked a heated debate in Spain about tolerance for racism in a rapidly diversifying society on and off the pitch.
Since the start of the season in August, the Real Madrid winger has suffered racist abuse from fans of at least five rival teams, including the hanging of an effigy of the black player at a bridge by a group of Atletico Madrid supporters in January.
“Racism is normal in La Liga,” Vinícius said of Spain’s top football league on Instagram and Twitter after being targeted with monkey chants from Valencia fans. to a game on Sunday. “The competition thinks it’s normal, as does the federation, and the opponents encourage it.”
Through his social media presence, Vinícius has repeatedly denounced the racist attitudes he says are prevalent in a southern European country where a third of children are now born to foreign parents.the majority from Latin America and Africa, and society as a whole is becoming increasingly racially diverse.
Politicians were quick to jump on the controversy, dividing along ideological lines. “Zero tolerance for racism in football,” socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez tweeted. “Hate and xenophobia should have no place in our football or in our society.”
Madrid regional president Isabel Díaz Ayuso, who has become a lightning rod for culture war issues ahead of Sunday’s local elections, retorted that Spain “is not a racist country”, adding that whoever says so ” was lying”.
But Spain’s wider black community has long complained of racist treatment in a society that has been home to significant non-white communities since the 1990s, and where they believe little action has been taken by left-wing or conservative governments. Reports of racist hate crimes increased by 31% between 2020 and 2021the latest year for which government data was available, and racism is the most common form of hate crime reported in Spain.
Rita Bosaho, who oversees race legislation at Spain’s equality ministry, has urged the government to pass a long-delayed anti-racism law ‘so that no young person has to go through this again’, in reference to the abuse suffered by Vinicius.
Spanish author and anti-racism activist Moha Gerehou, who is black, has written about being repeatedly asked which country he is from despite being born in Spain, and about his experiences of police harassment. He said racism was so normal that it was commonplace in Spain.
“Vinícius Jr does well to raise his voice to stress without euphemisms what is obvious: Spain is a racist country and football pitches are no exception. They are the norm,” he tweeted.
Gerehou has previously said Spaniards find it difficult to understand that racism can include refusing to enter a bar because of the color of one’s skin. “The problem is… a lot of people don’t 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 documented the daily episodes of racism he has experienced – 182 so far, including being followed in shops, asking for his ID identity on public transport and watch the Spaniards compliment his flayed lighter-son.
“There’s a close-up of Vinícius in which you can see him suffering from what he’s hearing and I really identify with that,” Jiménez Enoa said. “Obviously, I’ve never been in a football stadium where thousands of people are shouting ‘monkey!’ but on a daily basis. … A few times I even cried out of anger and frustration.
While racism is also a problem in his native Cuba, Jiménez Enoa said he had “never experienced such explicit racism on the streets, in the shops, in the market, wherever he was” as in Spain.
“I had never suffered from the way my skin color marks everyday life,” he said.
Far from being supported, Vinícius found himself the object of condemnations from some Spanish football authorities. Immediately after Sunday’s incident, La Liga president Javier Tebas slammed the player for attacking the league, claiming Vinicius failed to show up for the racism talks he himself requested.
“Instead of criticizing the racists, the league president comes out on social media to attack me,” Vinícius retorted. “I am not your friend to discuss racism with you. I want actions and punishments.
Some in Spanish footballHowever, admitted the widespread abuse, the president of the Spanish Football Federation, Luis Rubiales, condemning “a problem of behavior, education, racism”.
Authorities have been slow to crack down on fans who insult and attack black players. It was only on Tuesday that four people were arrested about the effigy incident, four months after it happened. Police did not say whether the moment was related to widespread condemnation of the latest abuses against Vinícius. Three other supporters were also arrested in Valencia for Sunday’s racist attack.
Spanish player Iñaki Williams, a black striker for Basque team Athletic Bilbao, tweeted his support for Vinicius with the words: “Racism is inadmissible in all circumstances.”
Williams suffered similar insults in a 2020 game, leading to the first criminal trial against a fan for racial abuse in the history of the Spanish game, which is expected to happen at some point later this year.
Even children’s leagues are not spared.
In March, Barcelona police arrested a 49-year-old man for insulting a black child from the stands at a match. Separately, a 12-year-old black child was the subject of racist taunts in the Catalan town of Sant Vicenç de Castellet in September. In this case, no police action was taken.
Renata Brito contributed to this report from Barcelona, Spain.