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LaLiga under pressure amid Vinicius Junior racism furore

League calls for more judicial powers after Real Madrid forward sparks backlash over discrimination.

23 May 2023 Josh Sim

Getty Images

  • LaLiga president Javier Tebas criticises Vinicius for ‘insulting’ the league
  • RFEF president says Brazilian star should ignore Tebas’ “irresponsible behaviour”
  • Puma and Santander come out in support of Brazilian

LaLiga, the soccer league body that manages Spain’s elite professional tiers, is under pressure to address a growing scandal around the racist abuse suffered by Real Madrid star Vinicius Junior.

The Brazilian forward was subjected to racist chants during the game at Valencia’s Mestalla stadium on 21st May and later said on social media that it was an example of ‘continuous episodes spread across several cities in Spain’.

The league has now said will request greater jurisdiction to punish clubs whose fans are guilty of racist abuse after feeling ‘powerless’ at the lack of current sanctions in the wake of the latest Vinicius incident, but its leadership, and specifically LaLiga president Javier Tebas, have come under scrutiny for their response.

LaLiga, according to the country’s law, can currently only identify and report incidents, and punishment is rarely handed out. Now it wants legislation changing so that it has the power to impose punishment such as forcing games to be played behind closed doors or financial penalties.

A statement from the league reads: ‘LaLiga will request more sanctioning powers, with the aim of being more agile and effective in the fight against violence, racism, xenophobia and intolerance in sport, where LaLiga has been leading the identification and reporting of such behaviour in football stadiums for years, but feels powerless when observing how its reporting ends.

‘Despite its intense and continuous fight against violence and racism to the full extent of its powers (currently, according to Spanish legislation, limited to identifying and reporting the facts that occur), LaLiga feels tremendous frustration at the lack of sanctions and convictions by the sports disciplinary bodies, public administrations and jurisdictional bodies to which it reports.

‘Faced with this serious situation, in the coming days LaLiga will formally request the amendment of Law 19/2007 of 11th July, against violence, racism, xenophobia and intolerance in sport and Law 39/2022 of 30th December, on sport.’

The league’s announcement comes after Vinicius had clashed with Tebas on social media, with the LaLiga president denying the forward’s assertion that racism was ‘normal’ in LaLiga.

Vinicius initially said on social media: ‘It wasn’t the first time, not the second and not the third. Racism is normal in LaLiga. The competition thinks it’s normal, so does the federation and the opponents encourage it. I am so sorry.

‘A beautiful nation, which welcomed me and I love, but which accepted to export the image to the world from a racist country. Sorry for the Spaniards who do not agree, but today, in Brazil, Spain is known as a country of racists.’

Tebas responded on Twitter by saying: ‘Neither Spain nor LaLiga are racist. It is very unfair to say this.

‘We cannot allow the image of a competition that is about the symbol of peoples union to be tarnished, where more than 200 players are of black origin in 42 clubs that receive in each round the respect and affection of the fans, being the racism an extremely specific case (nine complaints) that we are going to eliminate.’

The response from Tebas provoked an angry reply from Vinicius, who criticised Tebas for using social media to attack the victim rather than deal with the allegations. Vinicius also called on the league’s sponsors and broadcast partners to do more in holding LaLiga accountable when it comes to taking action against racism.

‘What is missing to criminalise these people?’ Vinicius tweeted earlier this week. ‘And punish clubs sportingly? Why don’t sponsors charge La Liga? Don’t televisions bother to broadcast this barbarity every weekend?

In a statement issued to Reuters, Puma, which has sponsorship deals with both Valencia and LaLiga, said: ‘At Puma, we do not tolerate racism, we condemn discrimination in any form and stand in solidarity with Vinicius Junior and the wider football community in condemning events yesterday,’

Meanwhile, Santander, the league’s title sponsor until the end of the current season, said in a statement: ‘Santander strongly rejects all racism and discrimination in whatever form it takes.’

Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) president Luis Rubiales, who is never shy when it comes to an opportunity to criticise Tebas, told a press conference that Vinicius should “ignore the irresponsible behaviour of the president of the league”.

“We have a behavioural problem, of education, of racism,” Rubiales said. “As long as there is a single undesirable or a group of undesirables that insults by sexual condition, skin colour or creed, we have a serious problem.

“Vinicius Junior and any footballer, woman or man, who suffers an insult, any violent act, has my support and that of the entire RFEF because we are here to help and ask them to help us improve.”

As well as Rubiales, Fifa president Gianni Infantino and Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez have voiced their support for Vinicius. The Brazilian government also called on the Spanish government and sporting authorities for strong punishments against those involved.

PA Media contributed to this report

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