The racial abuse of Vinicius Jr highlights the problem inherent in football

Written by Talise Azuni and Steve Douglas

June 6, 2023 GMT

MADRID (AP) – hanging on a motorway bridge in Madrid, dummy One of the world’s most famous black footballers stands as a graphic reminder of the racism gripping European football.

In fact, signs are everywhere.

In Italy, where monkey chants spread around the stadium In April, a black player celebrated a goal. In England, where a banana peel was thrown from a hostile crowd During a match in North London she fell at the feet of a black player after he had scored a penalty. In France, where black players from the men’s national team have been targeted with horrific racial abuse Online after they lost in last year’s World Cup Final.

Go outside Europe and you will find them too.

In Australia, where there were monkey noises and fascist chants during last year’s Australian Cup final. In South America, where matches in the continent’s biggest competition, the Copa Libertadores, have been spoiled by monkey cheers. In North Africa, where black players from visiting teams from sub-Saharan Africa complained of being targeted for racist chants by Arab fans.

Racism is a manifestation of a deeper societal problem, a decades-old problem in football – mostly in Europe but seen around the world – which has been amplified by the ubiquity of social media and the growing willingness of people to discuss it. And to think that just 11 years ago, then-FIFA President Sepp Blatter denied there was any racism in the game, saying any abuse should be resolved with a handshake..

The black player who is currently being subjected to the most vicious, cruel and uplifting racial insults is Vinicius Junior, the 22-year-old Brazilian. Who plays for Real Madrid, arguably the most successful soccer team in Europe.

Around the neck of a statue of Vinicius, a rope was tied and the figure was suspended from an overpass near Madrid’s training ground in the Spanish capital in January. It was Vinicius who two weeks ago might have been the decisive incident For the Spanish game, tears turned to tears during a match after confronting a fan who described him as a monkey and made monkey gestures towards him.

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It’s Vinicius who has emerged as the leading black voice in the fight against racism, which continues to stain the world’s most popular sports.

“I have a purpose in life,” he said on Twitter, “and if I have to keep suffering so future generations don’t have to go through these kinds of situations, I am ready and ready.”

Vinicius’ biggest concern is that the Spanish football authorities do little to stop the abuse, which leads to racism being an accepted part of the game in a country. Where he played since he was 18 years old.

Indeed, federations around the world have been very slow – in some cases, apparently unwilling – to equip themselves with powers to punish teams for the racist behavior of their fans, despite being granted FIFA the authority to do so since 2013..

Fines? certainly. Partial closure of stadiums? Yes. But tougher penalties, like deducting points or being kicked out of competitions? It is usually reserved for things like financial mismanagement, not racial abuse of players.

The result is frustration and a sense of powerlessness between black players and those who want to protect them. When asked what he expected to happen after the Vinicius incident, Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said: “Nothing. Because it happened so many times and nothing happened.”

Anti-racism campaigns and slogans are welcomed but increasingly seen as symbolic, particularly when the fines handed out to clubs or federations for racist abuse by fans are pathetic.

Take, for example, in 2012 UEFA handing the Spanish Football Federation a $25,000 fine to fans who racially abused a black player for Italy during the European Championships with, around the same time, a Danish player being fined five times. So. A sum for revealing underpants with a bookie’s name on them.

Experts believe that global outrage and widespread reaction And the outpouring of support for Vinicius after his recent abuse could mark a turning point in the fight against racism In Spain. It certainly struck a chord in Brazil, where there were protests outside the Spanish Consulate in Sao Paulo.While the Spanish League is now seeking to increase its authority to issue penalties. Its protocol thus far has been to disclose incidents, convict them and take evidence to the courts, where cases are usually shelved.

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Jacco van Sterkenburg, professor of race, inclusion and communication in football and media at Erasmus University Rotterdam, said outright racism in stadiums is more accepted and normalized in some parts of Spanish and southern European football culture than in places like England and other countries. Netherlands, where the media, former players and football associations have taken up the issue publicly.

“When you, as association football, don’t take a firm stand against it, and don’t repeat that message over and over again, it will reappear,” Van Sterkenberg said in a video call. “You have to repeat the message that this is not allowed, this is not acceptable.”

“When nothing happens, you still have to repeat that message. Some clubs have programs in place where they repeat the message, even when nothing happens. It sets the rule on an ongoing basis.”

Jermaine Scott, assistant professor of history at Florida Atlantic University, told the Associated Press that while overt racism is no longer a recurring problem in mainstream American sports, institutional racism is very visible, which is reflected in the lack of coaches and executives across the sports landscape. who are black, indigenous, or coloured. He sees the same institutional racism in European football, too.

For Scott, a player like Vinicius may be at odds with the values ​​of European football.

“As football has spread across the world, different cultures have made the game their own, instilling different values, such as creativity, innovation and most importantly, joy, and some would even say freedom,” said Scott.

“So when a player like Viní Jr. plays in the classic Afro-Brazilian style, accompanied by samba festivities, he upsets the value system in European football, which has historically regulated those who challenge such value systems.”

Football needs outside help in the fight against racism and it is getting it through anti-discrimination activists like Kick It Out in Britain And LICRA in France. The Fare Network, a European group set up to combat discrimination in football, puts up undercover observers Crowds at Europe’s biggest Games unmasked racist chants and extremist symbols on banners.

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Fans are increasingly likely to raise awareness of racist incidents by reporting them to federations and campaign groups or posting videos and photos on social media, with the material often used by authorities as evidence to punish perpetrators.

Then again, the growth of social media has its downsides when it comes to amplifying racial abuse in football compared to previous generations, as it was mostly confined to inside stadiums.

Now, people can shoot racial slurs anonymously through their phones, directly to the world’s top players’ Instagram and Twitter accounts. This leads to the irony of footballers, who are eager to promote their brands, using the same platforms where they are being abused.

As for the black players themselves, some of them are – like Vinicius and others like Samuel Eto’o and Mario Balotelli And Romelu Lukaku Calling out abuse when they see it, with the intention of leading the fight against racism. That’s something Paul Canovel, the target of racial slurs as Chelsea’s first black player In the ’80s, he wished he did.

“They have to say something there and then,” Canovel said of the black players. “I didn’t do that at the time and I had to learn from that. That’s something I’m teaching up-and-coming players now.”

Van Sterkenberg and Scott said more education and strong penalties are vital in the ongoing fight to eradicate racism. This is also the opinion of a former World Cup winner who played in Spain and was subjected to similar abuse by Vinicius.

“Racism is ingrained, it’s something people are used to, it’s something that’s passed on from one generation to the next,” said the player, who declined to be named because he is not allowed by his current employer to give interviews.

“People think it’s normal, something that’s not wrong, so it’s hard to fight that. And we can’t even say it’s something that will get better with time, because it’s been the same thing for several decades and nothing has changed.”


Douglas reports from Sundsvall, Sweden.


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