20230228_Vinicius Jr racism

Editor’s Note: This story was originally published on March 15, 2023. It has been updated to reflect the persistent racist abuse that Vinicius Jr. was subjected to during Real Madrid’s 1-0 defeat by Valencia on May 21, 2023.

CNN  — 

Vinícius Jr scored the goal that secured Real Madrid’s 14th European Cup last May, and this season his brilliance has continued to light up the team’s Champions League campaign.

The supremely talented 22-year-old – widely considered one of the world’s best players – has six goals in seven matches in Europe and another eight in LaLiga, but he has also become a repeated victim of “hate crimes” in Spain, according to a players’ union.

Ahead of the derby against Atlético Madrid in January, an effigy of Vinícius was hanged from a bridge in Madrid, while racist slurs have been caught on camera during Real’s matches at Osasuna, Mallorca, Real Valladolid and Atlético.

As of yet, there have been no punishments handed down by Spain’s leading football authority – the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) – or any local prosecutors, but investigations into some cases are still ongoing.

Unlike in England, where the Premier League and English Football Association (FA) can punish clubs or fans for incidents of racist abuse, LaLiga – Spain’s top football division – tells CNN Sport that it does not have this authority.

Instead, LaLiga can only pass on any incidents of abuse to RFEF committees or regional prosecutors, who deal with them as legal cases before sporting punishments are handed out.

LaLiga says it gives out the ‘Fan’s Handbook,’ written in collaboration with the Club Supporters’ Federation, in stadiums before each season starts, highlighting which practices should “represent the values” of football.

It also sends a ‘Player’s Handbook’ to every player before the start of the season, encouraging them to be respectful and to report any racist or violent behavior they witness.

An effigy with Vinícius' shirt hangs from a bridge in the vicinity of Real's Valdebebas training ground.

In a statement sent to CNN, the Spanish Players’ Union (AFE) – which helps to support victims of racist abuse in LaLiga – explains that Spain’s penal code considers these incidents to be hate crimes and punishable by law.

“So it is the State, the Justice and the Security Forces [police and Civil Guard] who must investigate and act immediately in the face of this type of event,” the AFE said. “Then, within the sports field, there is a disciplinary code that also contemplates possible sanctions for this type of conduct. We want to insist that what happened with Vinícius is a hate crime, which is criminally prosecuted.”

However, following an investigation into racist chants of “You are a monkey, Vinícius, you are a monkey,” aimed at the Brazilian before and during Real’s match against Atlético on September 18, 2022, LaLiga told CNN that the local Madrid prosecutor didn’t pursue the case because the yells were within the context of other “unpleasant and disrespectful” chants during a “football match of maximum rivalry.”

Piara Powar, the executive director of the Fare Network, an organization set up to combat discrimination across European football, says football leagues and authorities in Spain are “washing their hands” of these incidents.

Then, either through disinterest or a lack of understanding of football and the gravity of these incidents, local prosecutors are not adequately dealing with the investigations, Powar says.

“In Spain, this structure has been allowed to develop over the years and it hasn’t been challenged,” he says. “You often have an individual judge, who is linked to a local authority or a regional authority, who then sits as a quasi-judicial figure instead of a disciplinary committee or regulatory commission, which is what happens in other countries.

Vinícius Junior was racially abused by Barcelona fans during a match against Barça on October 24, 2021.

“Often, the individuals taking them are then completely disconnected from football and completely disconnected from the implications of their decisions, and often apply a mixed standard of evidence to them based partly on a criminal standard and partly on a civil standard – and the two standards are very different.

“So you have these cases that are being constantly dismissed and when they are passing the judgment on them, the sanction is usually a minor fine that has no impact at all.”

Powar says the way football and legal authorities in Spain deal with incidents of racist abuse at matches has led to the “system falling apart” in the country.

“It’s not effective, it has never been effective and some people treat it as a joke, but nobody relies on it as a reliable intervention that’s going to create a change,” he adds.

“I think you genuinely have an FA [RFEF], who either through disinterest or just through not understanding what they need to do, who are not doing anything themselves.

“We now need to move to a centralized template to assist the way UEFA is looking at how FAs are conducting the disciplinary regulations, how they’re enforcing them and making sure that the processes are fit for purpose.”

CNN has contacted the RFEF for comment but is yet to receive a response.

‘Racist campaign against Vinícius’

Incidents of players being racially abused by fans have tarred numerous LaLiga matches this season.

In total, LaLiga detailed to CNN Sport – at the time of publication in March – 12 separate cases of racist abuse to Black footballers dating back to January 2020 that it has passed on to local authorities.

Instances of racist abuse directed at Vinícius make up eight of these cases and four – including three involving the Real star and one involving Athletic Bilbao’s Nico Williams – have been archived without a punishment being handed out.

On May 21, Vinícius was again subjected to racist abuse from the stands, this time during Real’s match against Valencia at the Mestalla stadium.

The referee’s official report from the game described the incident, noting a fan had shouted “monkey, monkey” at Vinícius during the second half. Video footage of the match from DAZN España also shows that the Real Madrid star was subjected to various other racist insults throughout the game.

LaLiga says it is investigating the incident.

In addition to the local Madrid prosecutor choosing not to issue any punishments because they only “lasted for a few seconds,” other reasons from regional prosecutors for not trying cases include “could not identify the perpetrators,” “does not seem to be” covered by the penal code and “do not cross the line for a penal breach,” LaLiga said.

Most cases of racist abuse which LaLiga has referred to local prosecutors have involved Vinícius.

When asked to explain how it failed to identify the fans who racially abused Vinícius at FC Barcelona’s Camp Nou stadium on October 24, 2021, the Barcelona prosecutor said they are not able to reveal details as the investigation is private.

“What is clear is that they analyzed all the evidence they had and did not identify, in this case, any perpetrator,” they told CNN in a statement.

“In other cases, the investigation has been successful, such as the racist insults to Iñaki Williams [in January 2020] where the prosecution, after the investigation was carried out, filed a complaint and described it as a hate crime. It is currently awaiting a trial date.”

Powar says for a football regulatory case to take three years, “particularly a very simple one,” proves how “the system is failing in Spain.”

“These hearings should be heard by a committee of the FA, independently appointed, and they should be heard within days, if not weeks,” he adds.

“That is how this system should operate and then the sanction that results is implemented during the season, very quickly and the principles of natural justice are respected, but as it is, the victims are being failed.”

The painstakingly slow process in Spain appears all the more convoluted when compared to a recent case in England, in which a local court handed down a three-year ban to a fan just three months after he had shouted a racist slur at Chelsea’s Raheem Sterling.

Esteban Ibarra, the president of the Movement Against Intolerance, a Spanish organization that aims to educate on discrimination and track incidents of racist abuse in football, called the archiving of the Vinícius case at the Camp Nou by local authorities “inconceivable.”

“We flatly deny that Spain is a racist country, but we affirm that there are numerous racist behaviors in our country,” Ibarra added in a statement on the organization’s website.

“We maintain that there are plenty of racist incidents, which have not been stopped when there is relevant legislation and sufficient law, policing and institutional capacity to put an end to this ignominious behavior.

“The racist campaign against Vinícius began a long time ago.”

Racist chants by Atlético Madrid fans were caught on camera ahead of the Madrid derby against Real.

The Spanish Penal Code says racist acts – relating to ethnicity, race or national origin – that “harm the dignity of people” through “contempt” or “humiliation” can carry a punishment of six months to two years in prison.

Spain reports its hate crimes to the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), whose records show there were 1,802 hate crimes recorded by police in 2021 – the most recent data available – with 192 cases leading to prosecutions and 91 to sentences.

Compare that to England and Wales, where there were 155,841 hate crimes recorded by the police in the year ending March 2022, a 26% increase on the previous year.

Another case that has been “provisionally archived” is that of Vinícius at Mallorca on March 14, 2022, in which the Mallorca prosecutor says it was unable to identify the perpetrator.

“In the event that new elements of investigation arise, those proceedings could be reopened in order to be able to make the appropriate decision on their criminal consideration or not,” he told CNN in a statement.

The prosecutor explains that while cases of racist abuse are “absolutely rejectable” and “typical of profane and despicable attitudes,” under Spanish law incidents “do not always inevitably entail a criminal response.”

However, the prosecutor pointed to two cases in 2023 – another involving Vinícius and one involving Villarreal’s Samu Chukwueze – in which they have successfully identified the offender and are currently in the “judicial investigation phase.”

“When this phase is completed, the existing incriminating elements will be evaluated and the existence or not of a possible crime of discrimination will be specified,” they said.

Last month, the National Sports Council of Spain proposed a €4,000 fine and a 12-month ban from entering football stadiums for the Mallorca fan identified for abusing Vinicius at the match on February 5 this year, but the punishment is yet to be handed out.

The Mallorca Prosecutor’s office told CNN the judicial proceedings are ongoing.

Mallorca has also suspended the fan’s club membership for three years.

CNN has also reached out to the regional prosecutors that handled the other archived cases in Madrid and Seville for comment but is yet to hear back.