Spain’s world famous footy league, LaLiga, is home to the leading face of Brazilian football, Vinicius Jr. The exciting new Forward position player has been rising the ranks and is well considered to be one of the best players in the world. However, within the same sporting space, the 22-year-old is routinely subjected to vile and racist abuse on the pitch.
This is a normal occurrence in LaLiga, says Vinicius Jr himself, and something he has consistently faced when playing in Spain. Most of the targeted racism he faces doesn’t happen on the world stage, but happens at home, in the country he plays for.
On the evening of Sunday 21 May 2023, the footballer had understandably had enough. Following a 1-0 defeat against Valencia, Vinicius Jr was once again targeted by monkey chants and abuse from fans in the stands. The aggressive culprits were pointed out by the player to the referee, who failed to take action. Tempers flared between the two teams and he was met with a red card after shoving Valencia striker Hugo Duro, despite having been held by the neck only moments before.
Vinicius Jr has since called out LaLiga, claiming that Spain was known as a “country of racists” and that the abuse has been encouraged by his opponents. Javier Tebas, president of Spain’s football league condemned Vinicius Jr for “insulting” the organisation. This response is reflective of the attitudes in the country, and gives further justification to the Brazilian’s claims.
This is far from the only abuse that Vinicius Jr has received too—back in January, an effigy with the footballer’s shirt was hung from a bridge close to Real Madrid’s training ground. The disgusting attack prompted the club to file a hate complaint report. Four people have since been arrested in connection with the crime.
It was recently revealed that Vinicius Jr does not plan on leaving LaLiga, with Real Madrid Manager Carlo Ancelotti stating that Vini “loves Real Madrid.” The decision to remain at the club is also a brave stand up to the racists who aim to ruin the sport for so many others.
Ancelotti showed his firm support for Vinicius Jr, after he clashed with reporters after Sunday’s match, stating that “We have a problem. La Liga has a problem. We need to stop this game. Any game. I would say the same thing if we were winning 3-0. I have never seen a whole stadium being racist.” It is clear that the Real Madrid manager and club stands behind its star player.
Thankfully, Vinicius Jr also has the backing of his own country, who are naturally appalled at the racism that he is facing in Europe. On Monday 22 May, Rio de Janeiro’s historic and iconic monument, Christ the Redeemer, had its lights turned off at 6 pm local time in a show of solidarity, and to condemn the racist acts which took place at Sunday’s game.
Vinicius Jr responded on Twitter with a heartfelt message, stating that he was moved by the “action of solidarity.” He went on to note: “I really appreciate all the chain of affection and support I’ve received in the last few months. Both in Brazil and around the world. I know exactly who’s who.”
While the UK’s own fight for equality in football marches steadily on towards progress, it’s a shame to see Europe let down the fight, especially against such a talented player trying to solidify himself as one of this generation’s greats.
In an unprecedented and controversial move, FIFA has stated it will impose strict sporting sanctions against any football captains who wear the OneLove armband during the course of the Qatar World Cup 2022.
According to the BBC, the Football Associations of England, Wales, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland released a statement early this morning (21 November 2022) detailing the recent decision made by the global football organisation: “FIFA has been very clear that it will impose sporting sanctions if our captains wear the armbands on the field of play. As national federations, we can’t put our players in a position where they could face sporting sanctions including bookings, so we have asked the captains not to attempt to wear the armbands in FIFA World Cup games.”
The joint associations continued: “We are very frustrated by the FIFA decision which we believe is unprecedented—we wrote to FIFA in September informing them of our wish to wear the OneLove armband to actively support inclusion in football, and had no response. Our players and coaches are disappointed—they are strong supporters of inclusion and will show support in other ways.”
The OneLove armband is the physical manifestation of an initiative created in the hopes of promoting inclusivity and support for the LGBTQIA+ community within football. A number of football captains, including England captain Harry Kane, had previously stated their intentions to sport the colourful armband during the tournament—which has been deemed the most controversial sporting event to date.
However, it now appears that Kane, alongside a number of other European captains, will no longer participate in the campaign in fear of being heavily fined or even booked (receiving a yellow card).
The World Cup, which officially kicked off on 20 November 2022, has already been highly criticised by human rights organisations such as Amnesty International for the poor working conditions of migrant labourers—many of whom died during the construction of the infrastructure needed to host the sporting event.
Qatari officials garnered further criticism after World Cup ambassador Khalid Salman told German TV broadcaster ZDF that homosexuality is “damage in the mind.”
In response to the recent banning of the OneLove armband, many netizens took to Twitter to publicise their outrage and disappointment. One user made a dig against current FIFA president Gianni Infantino’s recent statements and simply posted: “Today I feel gay, and tomorrow I’m banning an armband that is worn to promote inclusion and send a message against discrimination of any kind.”
While sports journalist Jack Pitt-Brooke wrote: “One of the things that is so dispiriting about all this is that the OneLove armband felt like it was designed specifically so that it would be permitted. The blandness and non-specificity of it was the whole point. And they’ve still ultimately decided against wearing it.”
Later in the day, as England faced Iran on the pitch, a number of individuals pointed out the humiliating reality that, while so many nations chose not to wear the OneLove armband simply to avoid being booked, the Iranian team refused to sing their national anthem out of solidarity with the nationwide protests taking place back home after the death of Mahsa Amini at the hands of the morality police. They took action, despite knowing that they could face serious punishment or persecution when they return.