Best of 2023: Vinicius hate crime understood in Spain

The issue surrounding Vinicius Junior, who continues to be the victim of racist chants in Spain, is taking an increasingly international turn. The circumstance doesn’t just concern Spain, where the Real Madrid player operates, or his homeland Brazil, which has been robustly reacting to the continuous racist demonstrations against him.

In Italy, Corriere della Sera’s front page has featured a detailed report right below headlines dedicated to the country’s financial contributions for recent flood damages. Vinicius himself stated on the current situation, “Every away matchday brings an unpleasant surprise. Death threats, hanged dummies, loud cries. It isn’t football, it’s inhumane.”

The recurring racist mantra against him, “monkey,” has not been muttered by isolated fans. Indeed, during last week’s Valencia v Real Madrid match, the entire stadium was yelling the epithet, according to Real Madrid’s manager, Carlo Ancelotti.

These events have led the Brazilian government to take a forceful stance, with Lula demanding “serious measures” to end this form of vilification. The indignation has prompted significant symbolic reactions, with Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer statue being turned off as a form of strong protest.

O’Globo Newspaper suggests that Vinicius has pinpointed a discrepancy and opened a long-hidden cultural issue. The prevalent football culture assumes that athletes must tolerate all insults hurled at them from the stands. Portuguese historian Miguel Lourenço, who has authored several football books, asserts that the player’s refusal to accept such abuse, as a black athlete belonging to an elite group, has provoked increased backlash and an exponential surge in insults.

In this matter, Reuters journalist Fernando Kallás, who has lived and worked in Spain for the past 13 years, points out that Spain lags behind in the current global conversation about racism. “What happened last Sunday was so incredible and shocking that it eventually forced Spain to start looking inward and realize there’s a problem”.

This could potentially be addressed with a legal tool that is already in place in Spain: hate crime offense provided in the Spanish Penal Code, which carries a sentence of one to four years. La Liga has already filed eight complaints this season for the attacks on Vinicius, admired by Pelé “for his joy and talent”. However, so far, none has resulted in a criminal sanction.

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