The racist insults that were heard yesterday in Valencia, both inside and outside the Mestalla football stadium against the Real Madrid player Vinícius Junior, have spilled over from a question of racism in sport into Spanish society at large via the campaign for this weekend's municipal and autonomous elections. Last Sunday, at the end of the match, the Madrid player denounced that racism is normal in the Spanish League and that Spain is seen as a racist country. Different political leaders and candidates, including deputy PM Yolanda Díaz, and autonomous community presidents Isabel Díaz Ayuso and Ximo Puig, have come out to deny that the racist chants that were heard represent society as a whole. However, the controversy has even overflowed the borders of the Spanish state. The president of Brazil, Luíz Inacio Lula Da Silva, among others, has made protests and support for Vinícius heard.
The Spanish prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, called in a message on his Twitter account for "zero tolerance of racism in football". "Hatred and xenophobia must have no place in our football or in our society", he warned, in addition to adding the statement of condemnation for these events by Spain's National Sports Council, the CSD.
Tolerancia cero con el racismo en el fútbol.— Pedro Sánchez (@sanchezcastejon) May 22, 2023
El odio y la xenofobia no deben tener cabida en nuestro fútbol ni en nuestra sociedad. https://t.co/Ru7XwHlziQ
The insults to Real Madrid's Brazilian winger Vinícius Junior had already started in the streets of Valencia, before the match, and continued inside the ground, but the tension on the pitch soared in the 70th minute, when the player confronted a group of Valencia fans, accusing them of making racist insults against him, including 'monkey' gestures. The game was stopped until the fans were warned over the stadium PA system. However, with the resumption of the game, the incidents did not end, and in fact also involved some players, to the point that a new brawl between the two teams ended with the expulsion of Vinícius himself, with the Brazilian leaving the field addressing contemptuous gestures of his own to the crowd.
On Sunday evening, the player published a tweet denouncing that it was not the first time in this situation in Spain, that racism is normal in La Liga, that the Spanish football federation tolerates it and that rivals encourage it. "Today in Brazil, Spain is known as a country of racists", said the athlete.
Não foi a primeira vez, nem a segunda e nem a terceira. O racismo é o normal na La Liga. A competição acha normal, a Federação também e os adversários incentivam. Lamento muito. O campeonato que já foi de Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Cristiano e Messi hoje é dos racistas. Uma nação…— Vini Jr. (@vinijr) May 21, 2023
"Spain is a beautiful nation, which welcomed me and which I love, but which allowed the image of a racist country to be exported to the world," said the Brazilian star. "But I am strong and I will take it to the end against racists. Even if it's a long way from here."
Most of the political reactions rejected that the racist chants heard in Mestalla represent the situation in Spain. The Spanish deputy PM, Yolanda Díaz, guaranteed that the Spanish government will work to end racism and all forms of discrimination, but rejected Vinícius's accusations. "Racist chants in football stadiums do not represent our country, nor any football fans," she said.
Los cánticos racistas en los estadios de fútbol no representan a nuestro país, ni a ninguna hinchada de fútbol.— Yolanda Díaz (@Yolanda_Diaz_) May 22, 2023
Seguiremos trabajando para acabar con el racismo o cualquier otra forma de discriminación. https://t.co/Grz6v5w1tH
Madrid regional leader Díaz Ayuso also spoke out during her appearance at the ABC Forum that Spain "is not a racist country". "The image that has been transferred is really harmful, on top of that, it is a lie", said PP politician, taking the opportunity to compare the racist taunts in the Mestalla stadium with "the offences against the king".
Rejection in Valencia
Likewise, the president of the Valencian regional government, Ximo Puig, denied the generalized accusations made by the Brazilian footballer. "I don't think the Mestalla crowd is racist at all," said Puig, attributing the events that took place in the Valencian stadium to "a breeding ground that the extreme right generates".
The mayor of Valencia, Joan Ribó, praised the fact that those responsible for the racist insults against the player have been identified and punished. "The best formula so that no one dares to unfairly generalize a city or a fan base due to racist attacks by a few small-minded people is to prevent these behaviours from taking root," he argued.
The Spanish minister of equality, Irene Montero, "roundly condemned the racist attacks and assaults" suffered by the player, which she has attributed to the "normalization of hateful, racist and xenophobic speeches". For his part, the consumer affairs minister, Alberto Garzón, demanded a strong response from La Liga and fines so that this does not happen again. Garzón has assured that "racism is very deep-set in specific parts of the fan bases", especially those that are on the extreme right.
Incidents involving racist abuse by football fans or opposing players surface from time to time in Spanish stadiums, to an extent that provokes comment from the foreign football press. In 2021, Valencia player Mouctar Diakhaby was called a "black shit" during a match in Cádiz and he walked off - but the match went on. The same phrase was also famously used once by former Spanish national coach Luis Aragonés in reference to French star Thierry Henry. Ironically, on Spanish football chat show El Chiringuito after the Cádiz incident the presenters ended up defending Aragonés's ability to use such a phrase "without it being racist."
Vox considers the party has been attacked
Vox's spokesperson in Congress, Iván Espinosa de los Monteros, attempted to downplay the situation by asserting that the insults suffered by the player are "verbal violence" and that it seems much more serious that "physical" attacks are taking place" against candidates, members and volunteers of his party at electoral events. Espinosa affirmed that the far-right party is enduring with concern "very serious" attacks, involving "physical and real violence", against Vox members in events in communities such as the Basque Country and Catalonia, but also in Madrid, where, he asserted, stones have been thrown at them.
The debate, however, has not just remained within the borders of the Spanish state. Brazilian president Luíz Inacio Lula da Silva has come out in defence of the footballer from the city of Hiroshima where he is taking part in the G-7 summit. The Brazilian president spoke out on the issue just as he began his speech at the closing press conference of the summit, expressing solidarity with the player and calling on FIFA and the Spanish League, and those of other countries, to take action to prevent fascism and racism from establishing a presence in sports stadiums. "They called him a monkey. It is not acceptable, in the 21st century, to have such strong racial prejudice in so many football stadiums," he denounced.
The Spanish foreign minister, José Manuel Albares, also responded on the question during a press conference in Brussels. "Spanish society is a mostly tolerant society. It is a society that clearly rejects racism and, of course, on the part of the government of Spain there will be no doubt or no latitude given to any attitude of racism, intolerance or rejection of pluralism," the minister asserted.