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 La Liga, 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.
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.
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.