Spanish Football Admits Racism Problem After Vinicius Incident

Real Madrid's Vinicius Junior, center, leaves the pitch after being shown a red card during a Spanish LaLiga match between Valencia and Real Madrid, at the Mestalla stadium in Valencia, Spain, Sunday, May 21, 2023. (AP)
Real Madrid's Vinicius Junior, center, leaves the pitch after being shown a red card during a Spanish LaLiga match between Valencia and Real Madrid, at the Mestalla stadium in Valencia, Spain, Sunday, May 21, 2023. (AP)
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Spanish Football Admits Racism Problem After Vinicius Incident

Real Madrid's Vinicius Junior, center, leaves the pitch after being shown a red card during a Spanish LaLiga match between Valencia and Real Madrid, at the Mestalla stadium in Valencia, Spain, Sunday, May 21, 2023. (AP)
Real Madrid's Vinicius Junior, center, leaves the pitch after being shown a red card during a Spanish LaLiga match between Valencia and Real Madrid, at the Mestalla stadium in Valencia, Spain, Sunday, May 21, 2023. (AP)

Spanish soccer has a racism problem, its football federation chief Luis Rubiales said on Monday, echoing criticism by Brazil after Real Madrid lodged a race crime complaint following insults hurled at their Brazilian forward Vinicius Jr.

The top-flight LaLiga is under pressure to do more to combat racism after the Brazilian president, FIFA and fellow sporting stars such as France forward Kylian Mbappe, Rio Ferdinand and Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton voiced support for Vinicius.

In a social media post, Vinicius Jr. called racist abuse "inhuman" and asked sponsors and broadcasters to hold LaLiga accountable.

"What is missing to criminalize these people? And punish the clubs sportively? Why don't the sponsors charge LaLiga? Don't the televisions bother to broadcast this barbarity every weekend?" Vinicius said.

The statement came a day after the match against Valencia at the Mestalla stadium was stopped for 10 minutes after the 22-year-old Brazilian striker pointed out fans who he said were hurling racist comments at him.

"The problem is very serious, and press releases don't work anymore. Neither does blaming me to justify criminal acts," he added.

Brazil's Christ the Redeemer statue, Rio de Janeiro's iconic landmark, had its lights switched off on Monday night in a show of solidarity for the Real Madrid forward.

Vinicius, Real Madrid's second top scorer this season in all competitions (23) behind Karim Benzema (29), had previously described Spain as a "country of racists" after the match against Valencia on Sunday.

That provoked a response from LaLiga President Javier Tebas, who said on Twitter that enough was being done and that Vinicius should inform himself "before you criticize and slander LaLiga".

"The first thing is to recognize that we have a problem in our country," Rubiales said at a press conference in Madrid on Monday. It is "a serious problem that also stains an entire team, an entire fan base, an entire club, an entire country".

The Brazilian government on Monday summoned the Spanish ambassador to explain the incident, and its foreign ministry said in a statement that after "yet another inadmissible episode" it had concluded that effective measures had not been taken by the Spanish authorities to prevent such acts of racism.

Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Twitter there was "zero tolerance for racism in football".

"Sport is founded on the values of tolerance and respect. Hatred and xenophobia should have no place in our football and in our society," Sanchez added.

Spain's Sports Council previously said in a statement that it would study footage of the game to single out any perpetrators for prosecution.

Videos posted on social media and verified by Reuters showed hundreds of Valencia fans singing "Vinicius is a monkey" as the Real Madrid bus arrived at the stadium before the match.

"I am sorry for those Spaniards who disagree but today, in Brazil, Spain is known as a country of racists," Vinicius Jr wrote on Twitter.

Rubiales labelled Tebas's comments "irresponsible."

"Probably Vinicius is more right than we think and we all need to do more about racism," Rubiales said.

Multiple incidents

Real Madrid said on Monday they have lodged a hate crime complaint following the incident - the 10th episode of alleged racism involving the young soccer star that has been reported to prosecutors this season, according to LaLiga.

Valencia football club said in a statement it had identified one fan and was working with police to confirm the identity of others who could face punishments including lifetime stadium bans.

Spanish police continue to investigate a possible hate crime against Vinicius Jr after a mannequin wearing his number 20 shirt was hung from a bridge outside Real Madrid's training ground in January ahead of the club's derby match with Atletico Madrid.

Prosecutors dropped a complaint filed for racist chants aimed at the player in September during another game against Atletico Madrid.

The prosecutor archived the case because the chants of "monkey" were only said a couple of times and "only lasted a few seconds," highlighting how Spain's penal code makes it difficult to prosecute racist incidents at football games.

"LaLiga uses these legal cases to wash its hands, even though it actually has the power to make decisions and impose sanctions by itself," said Moha Gerehou, a Spanish journalist and anti-racism activist.

"LaLiga should be able to close stadiums and force a number of matches to be played behind closed doors in these cases, as that puts the pressure on the clubs and the fans themselves."

Spanish prosecutors officially investigated three cases of racist acts during the 2021-22 season, according to the Interior Ministry. Under current rules, people found guilty of racist behavior can be fined up to 4,000 euros ($4,403) and banned from stadiums for a year.

There is growing momentum for Spain to do more to tackle the problem. Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva called on FIFA and LaLiga to "take real action".

Seven-times Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton sent Vinicius a virtual fist bump on Instagram, adding: "Standing with you @vinjr."

FIFA President Gianni Infantino called for LaLiga to enforce a rule that penalizes clubs with points deductions if racist chants persist. He added that racists should be banned for life from stadiums worldwide.

Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez called for similarly drastic measures: "You have to stop the match... One insult and everyone goes home."



UEFA Promises More Clarity for Fans and Players on Refereeing Decisions at Euro 2024

 France's Antoine Griezmann, right, and France's William Saliba head the balls during a training session in Paderborn, Germany, Wednesday, June 12, 2024. (AP)
France's Antoine Griezmann, right, and France's William Saliba head the balls during a training session in Paderborn, Germany, Wednesday, June 12, 2024. (AP)
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UEFA Promises More Clarity for Fans and Players on Refereeing Decisions at Euro 2024

 France's Antoine Griezmann, right, and France's William Saliba head the balls during a training session in Paderborn, Germany, Wednesday, June 12, 2024. (AP)
France's Antoine Griezmann, right, and France's William Saliba head the balls during a training session in Paderborn, Germany, Wednesday, June 12, 2024. (AP)

Clarity for players and spectators and zero tolerance for serious foul play and dissent — that’s what referees have been tasked with at the European Championship.

UEFA had already announced last month that it would do more to explain decisions to teams, requiring in turn that only captains can approach the referees to discuss them.

And that was emphasized on Wednesday at a media briefing on refereeing guidelines for Euro 2024 that took place at Munich’s Allianz Stadium, two days before host nation Germany kicks off the tournament in the same venue against Scotland.

"Only the captain will approach the referee, the other players they have to think about (playing). That’s it, finish," UEFA managing director for refereeing Roberto Rosetti said.

UEFA has promised that the referees will attempt to give the captains an explanation of key incidents during the match, including what was discussed with VAR.

Any teammate ignoring his captain’s role and approaching the referee showing any sign of disrespect or dissent will receive a yellow card.

Fans, meanwhile, will also get a better understanding of VAR decisions as they will be broadcast on the giant screens in stadiums.

"This is something new. I think it’s very, very, very interesting," Rosetti said. "So we want to give, after the opinion of VAR, a technical explanation for the public. In live, simultaneously, the UEFA expert will prepare the explanation, a technical explanation about what happened in the specific situation.

"For example, on-field review, the referee awards a penalty for handball...technical explanation: Germany number nine touch the ball with his left arm which was in an unnatural position above the shoulder and making his body bigger."

Rosetti has met with all the teams participating at Euro 2024 and their coaches to present the refereeing guidelines for the tournament, including hammering home that any dangerous tackles will be severely punished.

"One of the most important priority in refereeing guidelines is to protect the players," Rosetti said. "To protect the image of the game, but in particular to protect the safety of the main actors of the games.

"We showed them a couple of clips that we are asking to the referees to be very strong in these kind of situations," he added. "So for such situations we asked to the referees to be zero tolerant because this is something that we cannot accept."