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Fans sentenced to prison in Spain for racist heckling of Vinícius Júnior

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Fans sentenced to prison in Spain for racist heckling of Vinícius Júnior


In what La Liga said Monday was the first judicial ruling of its kind, a complaint brought directly by Spain’s top soccer league resulted in prison terms for three fans accused of heckling Real Madrid star Vinícius Júnior in a racist manner during a match last year.

A court in Valencia, where the incident took place in May 2023, sentenced the fans to eight months in prison after they made monkey-like gestures and sounds aimed at Vinícius, a Black Brazilian. In addition, the fans have to pay court fees and are banned for two years from La Liga games and matches involving the Spanish national team.

Vinícius, 23, responded to the news Monday by warning “other racists” to “be afraid, ashamed and hide in the shadows.” Otherwise, he wrote in a social media post, he would be “here to collect.”

“Many asked me to ignore it,” the forward wrote in Portuguese (via Reuters), “others said that my fight was in vain and that I should just ‘play football.’

“But, as I’ve always said, I’m not a victim of racism. I am the tormentor of racists,” he continued. “This first criminal conviction in Spanish history is not for me. It’s for all black people.”

Just after the incident occurred, Vinícius said that, in his native Brazil, Spain was “known as a country of racists.” The Valencia-Real Madrid match had been temporarily halted after Vinícius brought attention to the heckling, and his team subsequently filed a hate crime complaint with Spanish authorities.

Real Madrid said Monday that the three fans, whom the team described as “young,” wrote a letter of apology to Vinícius, his team and anyone else who “felt denigrated and offended by their behavior.” In addition, they were said to have asked other fans to “banish all vestiges of racism and intolerance” at matches going forward.

La Liga said the fans were punished for violating a statute in the national penal code regarding “criminal offenses against moral integrity,” which can carry prison sentences of six months to two years. The case in question, per the league, also had an aggravating factor of racial discrimination.

“The ruling handed down today, which is final, establishes as proven that the three defendants insulted Vinícius with shouts, gestures and chants referring to the colour of his skin,” a Spanish court said. “These shouts and gestures of a racist nature, consisting among other things in the repetition of the sounds and imitating the movements of monkeys, caused the footballer feelings of frustration, shame and humiliation, with the consequent undermining of his intrinsic dignity.”

“This sentence is great news for the fight against racism in Spain,” La Liga President Javier Tebas said in a statement, “since it repairs the damage suffered by Vinícius Jr. and sends a clear message to those people who go to a football stadium to insult that La Liga will detect them, report them and there will be criminal consequences for them.”

The racist heckling came several months after an effigy of Vinícius appeared in Madrid shortly before his team played a match against crosstown rival Atlético Madrid. When the incident in Valencia occurred, La Liga said it had previously lodged nine complaints on his behalf that detailed discriminatory treatment. The episode galvanized fellow players and many fans, who made shows of support for Vinícius, but he said in March that things had “gotten worse” for him since he began to speak out on racism because “people are not punished.”

“They feel like they can keep saying things about the color of my skin,” he said in March, “to try to affect how I play. … I just want to play, and I want to be able to go to stadiums without anyone bothering me because of the color of my skin.”

On Monday, following the fans’ sentencing, Vinícius expressed gratitude on social media to La Liga and to Real Madrid for “helping with this historic condemnation.”



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