Vinícius Júnior Football racism row sparks heated debate off the pitch in Spain

MADRID (AP) – Repeated racist slurs against Brazilian soccer star Vinícius Júnior have sparked a heated debate in Spain about tolerance for racism in a society that is increasingly diverse on and off the field.

Since the start of the season in August, the Real Madrid winger has been racially abused by fans from at least five opposing teams, including having a likeness of the black player hung on a bridge by a group of Atlético Madrid fans in January.

Through his social media presence, Vinícius has repeatedly pointed out racist attitudes, which he says are prevalent in a southern European country A third of children are now born to foreign parentsthe majority are from Latin America and Africa, and society as a whole is becoming more racially diverse.

Politicians quickly intervened in the controversy, splitting along ideological lines. “Zero tolerance for racism in football,” tweeted Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez. “Hate and xenophobia should have no place in our football and in our society.”

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Madrid regional president Isabel Díaz Ayuso, who has become the lightning rod for culture war issues ahead of Sunday’s local elections, countered that Spain is “not a racist country,” adding that anyone who said that was “lying.”

But Spain’s broader 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, according to them, action has been taken by neither left-wing nor conservative governments. Reports of racist hate crimes increased by 31% from 2020 to 2021last year for which government data was available and racism is the most commonly reported form of hate crime in Spain.

Citing the abuse Vinícius suffered, Rita Bosaho, who is responsible for racial legislation at Spain’s Equality Ministry, called on the government to pass a long-delayed anti-racism law “so that no young person has to go through something like this again”.

Black Spanish author and anti-racism activist Moha Gerehou has written about being repeatedly asked what country he is from despite being born in Spain and his experiences of police harassment. He said racism is so normal that it is nothing conspicuous in Spain.

“Vinícius Jr. would do well to raise his voice to point out, without euphemisms, what is obvious: Spain is a racist country and soccer fields are no exception.” They are the norm,” he tweeted.

Gerehou has previously said that Spaniards struggle to understand that racism can also mean refusing someone entry to a bar because of the color of their skin. “The problem is that many 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 suffered – 182 so far, including being chased by shops, being asked for his ID on public transport and being watched how Spaniards complimented his lighter. skinned son.

“There’s a close-up of Vinícius where you can see him suffering from what he’s hearing, and I really identified with that,” said Jiménez Enoa. “Of course, I’ve never been to a football stadium where thousands of people are screaming. Ape!’ but in everyday life. … A few times I even cried out of anger and frustration.”

While racism is also an issue in his native Cuba, Jiménez Enoa said he had “never experienced such explicit racism on the streets, in shops, in the market, wherever” as in Spain.

“I have never suffered from the fact that my skin color shapes everyday life,” he said.

Far from garnering support, Vinícius has been condemned by some Spanish football pundits. Immediately after Sunday’s incident, LaLiga president Javier Tebas slammed the player for attacking the league and said Vinicius had not turned up for the racism talks he himself wanted.

“Instead of criticizing racists, the league president comes up on social media to attack me,” Vinícius countered. “I’m not your friend if you talk to yourself about racism. I want action and punishment.”

Some in Spanish footballHowever, the president of the Spanish Football Federation, Luis Rubiales, condemned “a problem of behaviour, education and racism”.

Authorities have been slow to crack down on fans who insult and attack black players. Were only on Tuesday four people arrested about the incident with the effigy, four months after it happened. Police did not say if the timing was related to widespread condemnation of recent abuses against Vinícius. Three other fans were also arrested in Valencia over Sunday’s racist attack.

Spanish player Iñaki Williams, a black forward for Basque side Athletic Bilbao, tweeted his support for Vinicius, saying: “Racism is unacceptable under any circumstances.”

Williams suffered similar insults at a game in 2020, leading to the first criminal case against a fan for racial abuse in the history of Spanish football, which is expected to take place later this year.

Even children’s leagues are not spared.

In March, police in Barcelona arrested a 49-year-old man for insulting a black child in the stands at a match. Additionally, in September, a 12-year-old black child was subjected to racist taunts in the Catalan town of Sant Vicenç de Castellet. In this case, no police action was taken.

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

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