When stadium bans and fines are expected to deliver justice to offenders, racist insults against the renowned Brazilian football player get a pass as “booing”.
For over a year, Brazilian football star Vinicius Junior has been the target of hate crimes, but little is being done to stop the abuse.
Commemorated by many as among the world’s best football players, the 22-year-old Real Madrid winger endured chants calling him a “monkey” during a game against Mallorca at Son Moix on February 5.
That was not the first time. Vini Jr. was subjected to racial slurs another time in Mallorca, as well as during several derbies at Osasuna, Real Valladolid, and Atletico Madrid.
In late January, an effigy of the player was hung from a motorway bridge near his club’s training ground in Madrid, alongside a banner that read “Madrid hates Real,” leading up to a game against Atletico.
Real Madrid and LaLiga - Spain’s top football league - both condemned the hateful bridge incident. LaLiga also condemned the racist attack in Mallorca last month, saying they would take the matter to court, but the division has drawn disdain for failing to take effective action.
The league claims it has no authority to impose sanctions and makes do with condemnations and seeking legal action against the offenders, yet the legal system has proven to be unwilling and ineffective.
On 18 September 2022, after Atletico fans chanted “Vinicius, you are a monkey” before and during a Real match, LaLiga said the local Madrid prosecutor’s office declined to charge the offenders, justifying the decision with a claim that the chants were normal within the context of “fierce rivalry” between the football clubs, which led to other disrespectful chants as well.
That mindset seems to reflect a general attitude in Spain that legitimises racist abuse by placing it within the context of “booing” - although in a particularly rude manner, writes Guardian author Jonathan Liew.
Punishable by law
So far, neither Spain’s governing football authority, the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF), nor local prosecutors, have placed charges against the offenders.
Under Spanish Penal Code, such racist acts that cause injury to dignity are regarded as hate crimes which are punishable by law and come with a prison sentence that ranges from six months to two years.
That means Spain’s judiciary and security forces must take the responsibility of bringing offenders to justice, while sports bodies can call upon a disciplinary code that would allow the enaction of potential sanctions.
LaLiga says they have so far referred 12 cases of “racist abuse to Black footballers dating back to January 2020,” 11 of them targeting Vinicius and one against Nico Williams from Athletic Bilbao, to local authorities according to CNN sports journalist Matias Grez.
Four of those cases, including the one regarding Williams, were reportedly archived without legal action.
In addition to letting hate crimes get a pass as “booing”, prosecutors have been neglecting cases by saying the abuse lasted merely a few seconds, or because the offenders couldn’t be identified.
The Mallorca prosecutor, who archived a case from March 14 that targeted Vini Jr., referred to the latter cause for their decision while adding that such incidents “do not always inevitably entail a criminal response,” CNN quoted.
Meanwhile, a Mallorca fan who was identified for participating in the racist insult against Vini Jr. last month faces a fine of approximately $4,200 (4,000 euros) and a year-long stadium ban proposed by Spain’s Supreme Sports Council. The legal process is continuing, so the sentence hasn’t yet been imposed.
In its own right, LaLiga has stated that it distributes handbooks to prevent the frequent incidents of players being racially abused by fans during games, and to promote a positive and inclusive atmosphere in football stadiums.
A "Fan's Handbook" handed to supporters before each season emphasises the values of football and outlines the behaviour that should be demonstrated in stadiums. Players also receive one that urges them to report violent or racist behaviour and be respectful.
Nevertheless, the handbooks have proven insufficient given the continuity of racial abuse at derbies, highlighting the need for further action.