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Vinicius Jnr leading the fight against racism in La Liga

Without a doubt, racism, a weapon of psychological and mental torture usually deployed by persons who are prejudiced against or antagonistic towards people on the…

Without a doubt, racism, a weapon of psychological and mental torture usually deployed by persons who are prejudiced against or antagonistic towards people on the basis of their membership of a particular racial or ethnic group, typically one that is a minority or marginalised, is a serious threat to the game of football. Considering the danger inherent in it, the world football body, FIFA, other football governing bodies and all the other forces against discrimination on the basis of skin colour are constantly seeking ways to end racism.

Unfortunately, the evil has continued to rear its ugly head, especially in Spain where its disciples who throng football arenas to give support to their clubs are quick to heap unwarranted abuses on opposing players who do not bear their colour. In some extreme cases, after poor results, they extend the same psychological attack to even their own players. 

However, something unprecedented happened recently after one of the most racially abused players in world football, Vinícius José Paixão de Oliveira Júnior better known as Vinicius Jnr, an immensely talented Brazilian who plays for Real Madrid in the Spanish League was subjected to another round of abuse by some irate fans of Valencia FC during his side’s La Liga defeat at the Mestalla Stadium on Sunday, May 24. 

Right there on the field, the brave Brazilian challenged his abusers and even as he was eventually given the marching order after an altercation with an opposing player, he had successfully made a bold statement that racism can be confronted and given a bloody nose. He has always been taunted by opposition fans since he joined Real in 2018 but the latest incident has no doubt kicked up a storm over whether Spain is doing enough to stamp out racism in football.

FG seeks sustained intervention to fight TB, AIDS, malaria

FG seeks sustained intervention to fight TB, AIDS, malaria

Interestingly, Vinicius Jnr received overwhelming support across the world as there were instant calls for La Liga and Spain as a government to take drastic measures to end the vile abuses. The response was spontaneous as apart from the arrest of seven people connected to the ugly incident, Valencia were also fined €45,000 (£39,000) by the Spanish Football Federation and a section of the stadium from where the racists launched their attack was banned. Even though some of the arrested offenders have been released on bail and the fine tempered down after Valencia’s appeal, there is a glimmer of hope because authorities in Spain had never acted so swiftly in any case involving racial abuse.

In fact, in quick succession, Vinicius Jnr recorded so many wins against racism as the decision of La Liga to rescind the red that was issued to him was one of such major victories. Another victory for him was no doubt the supportive action of his team mates in Real Madrid who donned his number 20 jersey during their next league match against Rayo Vallecano. They simply told the world that each and every one of them was Vinicius Jnr at that moment despite their colour differences. 

Vinicius Jnr who sat next to the president of Real Madrid during the match also stood to acknowledge the standing ovation that was observed in the 20th minute of the match in solidarity with him. There was also a large tifo on display, and Real Madrid’s basketball team also wore No. 20 shirts. Maybe, there has never been such a display of unity against racism.

It will also be recalled that to sustain pressure on LaLiga and the Spanish government, soon after his expulsion against Valencia, Vinicius Jnr made a scathing remark asking why racists are allowed to destroy the beautiful game. On his personal Instagram account, he posted a story saying, “The prize that racists won was my expulsion! ‘This isn’t football, this is @LaLiga.’ 

He then posted a longer statement on his Twitter: “It was not the first time, nor the second, nor the third. Racism is normal in La Liga. The competition thinks it’s normal, the Federation does too and the opponents encourage it. I’m so sorry. The championship that once belonged to Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Cristiano [Ronaldo] and [Lionel] Messi today belongs to racists.

“A beautiful nation, which welcomed me and which I love, but which agreed to export the image of a racist country to the world. I’m sorry for the Spaniards who don’t agree, but today, in Brazil, Spain is known as a country of racists.

“And unfortunately, for everything that happens each week, I have no defence. I agree. But I am strong and I will fight to the end against racists. Even if that is far from here.”

Interestingly, his vocal protest also attracted the attention of Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez who said there should be “Zero tolerance for racism in football.

“Sport is founded on the values of tolerance and respect. Hatred and xenophobia should have no place in our football nor in our society,” he said.

Special home support for Vinicius

Vinicius Jnr is not the only prominent footballer who has been racially abused. Renowned football players like Joseph-Antoine Bell, Mario Balotelli, Romelu Lukaku, Kevin-Prince Boateng, Moussa Marega, Samuel Etoo’Fils, Renato Sanchez, Yaya Toure and Nigeria’s Osaze Odemwingie had also suffered vile abuses at different times while playing for their clubs in Europe. They also received support from those opposed to racism but the support from the world to Vinicius is extraordinary.

Following Vinicius’ protest and its galloping effect, the president of La Liga, Javier Tebas, was quoted as saying the young Brazilian shouldn’t allow himself to be manipulated. “Before you criticise and insult La Liga, you need to inform yourself well, Vini Jr. Don’t let yourself be manipulated”. 

Although he immediately apologised after he was roundly criticised, his apology wasn’t soothing enough to pacify the President of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who criticised La Liga and its president in very clear words.

Lula told a news conference in Japan on the sidelines of a G7 meeting that he hopes FIFA, the Spanish League and other soccer bodies “Take measures so we don’t allow racism and fascism to take over” in the sport.

 “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. Several of his cabinet ministers also backed Vinicius and were critical of the Spanish League.

Brazil’s Human Rights Minister, Silvio Almeida, who is black, said on Twitter: “The behavior of Spanish authorities and of the entities that govern its soccer is criminal.

“It shows undeniable acceptance of racism,” Almeida said. “(Vinicius) I will be on your side to hold those that attack you accountable, but also those who omit themselves.”

The Brazilian Football Association has also announced that Brazil will play friendlies against two African nations as part of an anti-racism campaign in support of their Real Madrid forward, Vinicius Jr.

The five-time world champions will face Guinea in Barcelona on June 17 and Senegal in Lisbon three days later.

In addition, Ednaldo Rodrigues, the first black president of the Brazilian soccer confederation, said he is troubled by the lack of action in Spain after another racist incident against Vinicius.

In fact, many other Brazilians including Flamengo, the club where Vinicius started his career rose stoutly in support of his fight against racism.

Chukwueze called monkey at Mallorca

Nigerian international, Samuel Chukwueze, who plays for Villarreal was racially abused by a fan of Mallorca who called him a monkey. He scored in the match to bring scores to 2-2 before his side conceded two more goals to lose the match.

La Liga later said “The police have taken a statement from the individual identified by the director of security at RCD Mallorca as the person responsible for the racist insults against Villarreal CF player, Samuel Chukwueze on Saturday, February 18, who, in turn, has been identified as the person responsible for the racist chants against Vinicius Jr. on February 5 from the same stand at the Estadi Mallorca Son Moix.”

Apart from the Nigerian, other players of African origin too have had their share of racial abuses in La Liga at different times. Idriss Carlos Kameni also suffered racist chants from the public in Zaragoza in 2004. Samuel Eto’o’s five years at FC Barcelona (2004-2009) were punctuated by racist abuse. In an incident, the forward lobbed a ball at Getafe fans after some made monkey noises from the stands. For that, Eto’o got a yellow card.

Wake-up call for LaLiga

Considering the enormous criticism it faced in the wake of the latest racial abuse against Vinicius Jnr, La Liga has intensified its efforts to be given the power to punish offences relating to racism. According to Spanish Law, La Liga is only permitted to identify and report incidents, but not sanction. La Liga feels powerless given the lack of sanctions that often result from its reporting. So, faced with frustration at the lack of sanctions and convictions handed out by the sports’ disciplinary bodies, public administrations and jurisdictional bodies to which it reports, the league body is planning to formally request the amendment of Law 19/2007 of July 11, against violence, racism, xenophobia and intolerance in sport and Law 39/2022 of December 30, on sport.

Ray of hope as Vinicius bags FIFA appointment

The latest battle against racism by Vinicius Jnr is certainly more serious than previous ones as an attack on a single player has awakened the whole world to the danger of racism to football. Support is coming from world super powers like the USA and international bodies such as the United Nations. Just on Thursday, the world football governing body, FIFA, appointed Vinicius Jnr to head its anti-racism committee made up of players who will suggest stricter punishments for discriminatory behaviour in football. If such pressure on the relevant authorities whose duty is to punish offenders is sustained, racism in sports, particularly football, may be reduced to the barest minimum, if not eradicated completely.

 

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