Inside the history of racism in La Liga
Vinícius Júnior, the Brazilian soccer forward for Real Madrid, was the subject of racial abuse during a match between Real Madrid and Valencia on May 21. This is not the first time racist incidents have been directed at Vinícius by Spanish soccer fans. However, the incident has received greater worldwide attention and revealed the ongoing racism within La Liga, Spain’s top professional men’s soccer league.
While Valencia would go on to win 1-0, the game was overshadowed by racist remarks from Valencia fans. There was a 10-minute stoppage around the 70th minute of the match as Vinícius pointed to fans racially abusing him. Later, the fans were escorted to a different part of the arena, and an anti-racist message was broadcast across the stadium. Vinícius was also issued a red card at the end of the game, which has since been rescinded.
“It wasn’t the first time, not the second and not the third,” Vinícius said on Instagram about the comments via Google Translate. “Racism is normal in La Liga... in Brazil, Spain is known as a country of racists.”
The first racial incident against Vinícius reported to La Liga came in October 2021 during a match between Real Madrid and Barcelona at Camp Nou–Barcelona’s home stadium. La Liga took the case to the prosecutor’s office in Barcelona, and the incident was reported as a hate crime, but the case was later dropped.
The Shift spoke to Dermot Corrigan, La Liga correspondent for The Athletic, who has covered the top Spanish league for a decade. Corrigan emphasized the difficulty of punishing incidents of racial abuse in Spanish courts.
“Under Spanish law, or so they say anyway, it is very difficult to prove racist abuse or even find a crime involved in it,” he said. “So cases drag on for years, and sometimes cases are dropped without any resolution.”
Vinícius would continue to face racial abuse by La Liga fans, often going unpunished. La Liga has filed nine complaints to the Spanish authorities regarding the racial abuse Vinícius has faced. In two separate incidents, Vinícius faced racial abuse by Atlético Madrid fans. In September 2022, racist chants could be heard by fans.
More recently, in January, a blowup doll wearing a Viní Jr shirt was hung by its neck from a bridge close to Real Madrid’s training grounds along with a poster saying, “Madrid hates Real.” Four people were arrested after months of investigation. The men will each receive a €60,001 fine and a two-year ban from stadiums. Punishments for the Valencia fans who had racially abused Vinícius were also revealed. The three fans will receive €5,000 fines and a one-year ban from all stadiums. The fans previously received a lifetime ban from Valencia’s home stadium.
“Historically in Spain, there was very little action taken,” Corrigan said regarding the punishments for teams involved in racial incidents. He says La Liga is taking steps to punish individuals racially abusing players by involving the Spanish authorities.
Whether it be because Vinícius singled out the fans or the greater media exposure of the incident, Valencia faced swift punishments by the league. Initially, the league announced that a portion of Valencia’s home stadium would be closed for five games and fined the club €45,000. However, Valencia appealed the punishments and got the closure reduced to three games, along with a €27,000 fine.
Corrigan says the fines against Valencia are largely “symbolic” because “there’s so much money in top-level football.” Valencia’s annual payroll this past season was around €51 million, and the team’s lowest salary is €160,000; by comparison, a €27,000 fine is unlikely to affect significant change. Instead, Corrigan says collective punishments, like partial or full stadium closures or a deduction of points, will evoke more positive change.
Corrigan believes it is everyone’s responsibility – UEFA, La Liga, the Spanish government, the media and fans – to combat the racism so prominent in the league.
While Vinícius did not play in Real Madrid’s next game following the racist incident due to an injury, his presence was felt all across the home stadium. Prior to kick-off, Real Madrid’s entire team wore shirts that said Viní Jr with his number 20 on the back and both teams held up a banner that said “Racists, outside of soccer.” Fans also held up a banner that said, “Vinícius, we are all, enough is enough.”