Vinícius Jr., Real Madrid’s Brazilian forward, was subjected to persistent racist abuse during his team’s 1-0 defeat to Valencia at the Mestalla Stadium in Spain’s La Liga.
The flashpoint of the game came in the second half, where after a stoppage in play, an animated Vinícius pointed out a fan in the stands for the abuse before engaging with the supporters in the section of the crowd in question.
LaLiga TV broadcasters said there was an announcement in the stadium calling on fans to not insult the players or throw objects onto the pitch.
The referee’s official report from the game described the incident.
“Racist insults: in the 73rd minute, a spectator from the southern ‘Mario Kempes’ tribune directed himself towards player No. 20 of Real Madrid CF Mr. Vinicius José De Oliveira Do Nascimiento, screaming at him: ‘Monkey, monkey’ which led to the activation of the racism protocol, notifying the pitch delegate so that a corresponding warning over the loudspeaker would be made. The match was halted until said announcement was aired over the loudspeaker of the stadium,” it reads.
Vinícius Jr. was sent off in the final minutes of the game for his involvement in an altercation with Valencia player Hugo Duro.
Video from the match broadcast by DAZN España also showed that, in addition to the aforementioned incident, the Real Madrid star was subjected to various other racial insults throughout the game.
Spanish national police in Valencia told CNN on Monday that they identified one person in the stadium who was involved in alleged racist chanting, but so far no arrests have been made. In a statement on Monday, Valencia confirmed that local police had identified one fan and that the fan in question and any others involved in racist gesturing or acts would be banned for life from the stadium.
The Spanish Prosecutor’s Office told CNN on Monday that it has opened an investigation into the incident for a potential hate crime.
‘The prize that racists won was my expulsion’
Los Blancos manager Ancelotti addressed the situation after the game to Movistar Plus, saying, “I don’t want to talk about football today … when a whole stadium is chanting ‘monkey’ at a player and the manager has to think about taking off a player because of it, there is something bad happening in this league.”
In a separate interview with reporters, Ancelotti suggested referees should call off matches in other instances of racism in the league. The Italian said, “I’m very sad because La Liga is a league with big teams with a good atmosphere. This we have to get rid of. We are in 2023, racism does not have to exist … the only way for me is to stop the game.”
On his personal Instagram account, Vinícius Jr. posted a story saying, “The prize that racists won was my expulsion! ‘This isn’t football, this is @LaLiga.’”
The Real Madrid player 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 defense. I agree. But I am strong and I will fight to the end against racists. Even if that is far from here.”
‘Hashtags don’t move me’
Later, in response to a tweet by LaLiga president Javier Tebas telling Vinícius to “inform” himself on LaLiga’s jurisdictions and role in racism cases and chiding him for twice not meeting with him to discuss the matter, the Brazilian said: “Once again, instead of criticizing racists, the president of LaLiga shows up on social media to attack me. … I am not your friend to talk with about racism. I want actions and punishments. Hashtags don’t move me.”
Real Madrid quoted Ancelotti, goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and winger Lucas Vázquez on its official social media but offered no official statement immediately in the wake of the match.
Valencia issued a statement shortly after the conclusion of the match on its website: “Valencia CF wishes to publicly condemn any type of insult, attack or downgrading in football. The club, in its dedication to the values of respect and sportsmanship, reaffirms publicly its position against physical and verbal violence in stadiums and regrets the events which occurred during the game of Matchday 35 of La Liga against Real Madrid.
“Although it is an isolated incident, insults towards any footballer of the rival team have no place in football and do not fit with the values and identity of Valencia CF. The club is investigating the events and will take the most severe measures. In the same vein, Valencia CF condemns whichever offense and asks for the maximum respect towards our own fans.”
Despite other Real Madrid players also saying that monkey chants were made towards Vinícius Jr., including goalkeeper Courtois, Valencia rejected Ancelotti’s claim that the stadium was chanting “monkey.”
“Valencia CF can’t tolerate someone accusing our fans of being racist, we strongly reject Ancelotti’s comments,” club corporate director and spokesperson Javier Solís said.
La Liga issued a statement of their own, announcing an investigation into events at the Mestalla.
“In the face of the incidents which took place during Valencia CF vs Real Madrid CF in the Estadio de Mestalla, LaLiga wishes to inform that it has requested all the available images to investigate what happened,” it said. “LaLiga will also investigate the images in which racist insults were allegedly uttered towards Vinicius Jr. outside of the grounds of Mestalla.”
Vinícius Jr. has been subjected to racism repeatedly this season, as noted by the La Liga statement. The league’s authorities told CNN in March they do not have the power to punish fans or clubs for racist abuse. Instead, La Liga can only pass on any incidents of abuse to the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) or regional prosecutors, who deal with them as legal cases before sporting punishments are handed out.
“LaLiga has been proactive against all racist incidents against the Real Madrid CF player Vinícius Jr,” the league’s statement continued, before listing nine separate incidents from the past two seasons it had reported to the Competition Committee of RFEF, the State Commission against Violence, Racism, Xenophobia and Intolerance in Sport, the hate crimes prosecutors and the courts.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino posted an Instagram story saying, “Full solidarity to Vinicius. There is no place for racism in football or in society and FIFA stands by all players who have found themselves in such a situation,” before highlighting the need for the racism protocol which FIFA uses in its competitions.
Polarizing figure in Spain
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said that it’s “not possible that almost in the middle of the 21st century, we have the racial prejudice gaining strength in several football stadiums in Europe … I think it is important that FIFA, the Spanish league, and leagues in other countries take real action because we cannot allow fascism and racism to dominate football stadiums,” while the Brazilian Football Federation tweeted: “How long will humanity remain just a spectator and an accomplice in cruel acts of racism?”
While responses from around the world have come to the defense of Vinícius, criticism of the player abounds in Spain with many commentators and members of the public accusing the Madrid star of being a provocative figure.
The spokesperson for the Socialist Party of Valencia, Borja Sanjuan Roca, wrote on Twitter following the player’s expulsion in Sunday’s match: “This red card from Vinícius was celebrated by half of Spain.” When he was subsequently told by a political science professor that he should be calling out the racism Vinícius suffered, Sanjuan said: “I will never defend any racist insult that any player could suffer, but this isn’t what happens with Vinicius. This player is an embarrassment for football.”
Before Sunday’s win over Real, Valencia had been in danger of being drawn into the relegation battle and after the match, when Vinícius was signing autographs for fans near the team bus a Spanish journalist asked him, “Are you going to apologize for that gesture you did? To Second Division?” to which the Madrid winger replied, “Are you stupid?”
After the match, Valencia manager Rubén Baraja denounced the “person or group” involved with abusing Vinícius, but then appeared to suggest that the Madrid star “will apologize” to Valencia fans because his “A Segunda (To Second Division)” gestures while being sent off were “also very condemnable.”
Similar sentiments were commonplace in Spanish media’s coverage of Sunday’s match, which ranged from “Enough with the racist insults and also enough with the gestures of Vinícius” to “Vinícius, a ‘masterclass’ of everything you shouldn’t do on a football pitch.”
In statement on Monday, Real Madrid C. F. said Sunday’s events “constitute a direct attack to the model of coexistence in our State of social and democratic rights.”
“Real Madrid considered that such attacks additionally constitute a hate crime, as such it will present a corresponding complaint to the General State Prosecutor, concretely to the Prosecutor against hate crimes and discrimination, so that the events are investigated and responsibilities are handed out.
“Article 124 of the Spanish Constitution establishes the functions of the Public Prosecutor’s Office to promote the action of justice in the defense of legality and the rights of citizens and the public interest.
“For this reason, and given the seriousness of the events that occurred, Real Madrid has turned to the State Attorney General’s Office, without prejudice to its appearance as a private prosecution in the proceedings that are being initiated.”
Meanwhile, many prominent names in football offered their support to Vinícius. Former England and Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand said on his Instagram, “Bro you need protecting….who is protecting @vinijr in Spain?
“How many times do we need to see this young man subjected to this sh*t?? I see pain, I see disgust, I see him needing help … and the authorities don’t do sh*t to help him.
“People need to stand together and demand more from the authorities that run our game. No one deserves this, yet you are allowing it. There needs to be a unified approach to this otherwise it will be swept under the carpet AGAIN.”
Paris Saint-Germain superstar Kylian Mbappé wrote on his Instagram story, “You’re not alone. We are with you and we support you,” while fellow PSG star Neymar wrote on his Instagram story, “I’m with you @Vinijr.”
Milan forward Rafael Leão tweeted, “When will it end?” in response to the incident.
Vinícius’ Real Madrid teammates came out en masse to support the Brazilian with defender Antonio Rüdiger saying, “2023 And still… Disgrace. We’re with you @vinijr.”
CNN’s Al Goodman contributed to this report.