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‘I’m losing my desire to play’, says tearful 23-year-old Real Madrid forward Vinicius Jr

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Tears streamed down Real Madrid and Brazil forward Vinicius Jr’s face in a pre-match press conference on Monday when he was asked about the racist incidents he faced in Spain for the last couple of years. A strong-willed player who always sounded defiant while facing the hatred, finally looked like he had had enough. Sometimes, people tend to forget this was just a 23-year-old who had come to Spain from his native Brazil to play football. The racist hatred he receives is totally uncalled for.

“It’s something very sad what I have been going through here. It’s tough. I’ve been fighting against this for a long time. It’s exhausting because you feel like you are alone. I’ve made so many official complaints but no one is ever punished. “More and more I’m losing my desire to play. But I’ll keep fighting,” the Brazilian said on the eve of Brazil vs Spain’s “One Skin” friendly match.

“I’m sorry. I just want to keep playing football. I just want to keep doing everything that I can for my club and for my family. I’ll stay here, playing for the best club in the world and scoring goals and winning titles. And people will have to keep seeing my face for a long time,” he added after recomposing himself.

Racist incidents against Vinicius is not something new

The racist abuse before the One Skin friendly wasn’t the first time the Brazil forward has been subject to these kinds of incidents throughout his career in the Spanish capital. Last May, Real Madrid had launched a complaint against some Valencia fans who had aimed racist chants towards Vinicius at Estadio de Mestalla. Even before that, chants of “die Vinicius” were heard in Barcelona’s 2022-23 league title winning celebrations which led to the filing of 8 complaints of racial abuse to the La Liga.

Last year, Atletico Madrid fans were also heard chanting “You’re a monkey, Vinicius, you’re a monkey” outside of the Metropolitanto before a league clash with Real. Before that in January 2023, the Atletico supporters had hung a black effigy clad in a Vinicius Junior shirt off a bridge. Atletico Madrid and La Liga had condemned the incidents through social media posts but nothing has changed in the long run.

Though the four Atletico fans who had hung the effigy were taken into custody with prosecutors appealing for four-year prison sentences against them and some other people chanting racist slogans, the situation is yet to improve.

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For example, last year, some Barca and Atletico supporters chanted anti-Vinicius slogans before their respective Champions League games against Napoli and Inter, matches that the Brazilian forward was not even a part of.

This led to Vinicius posting a sarcastic text on X, saying, “I hope you have already thought about their punishment. @ChampionsLeague @UEFA. it’s a sad reality that even happens in games where I’m not present!”

What are the stringent measures taken by Spain and La Liga?

According to the Associated Press (AP), the Spanish government has highlighted the work of a permanent committee set up to fight violence, racism, xenophobia and intolerance in sports. The committee, which includes the Spanish league, authorities and the soccer federation, has previously punished clubs with fines and issued stadium bans, as well as keeping fans from attending matches for long periods and making them pay hefty fines.

Vinicius Junior Real Madrid’s Vinicius Junior, left, confronts Valencia fans as Valencia’s Jose Luis Gaya reacts (AP)

Meanwhile, La Liga League president Javier Tebas said La Liga’s fight against racism “has become more visible following the dimension of the incident with Vinicius,” though “intense efforts have been underway for many years.” “The strategy or actions will never be enough until we eradicate this scourge, but I can guarantee that the fight to end racism and any display of hatred inside and outside our stadiums is an absolute priority for La Liga and the clubs. Society in general, and football fans in particular, are increasingly aware that these hateful attitudes are absolutely intolerable, constitute a crime, and have no place in our society,” he said in an email to AP.

The Vinicius Junior law in Brazil

In July last year, Rio de Janeiro named an anti-racism law in the name of Vinicius. Titled the Vini Jr law, any sporting event will be stopped or suspended in case of any racist incidents on or off the field. There is also a protocol on how to process complaints of racism and mandatory educational campaigns to go along with it.

“Today is a very special day and I hope my family is very proud. I am very young and I didn’t expect that I would be receiving this tribute,” the player had said after the law was introduced.

Racism in Spain and other European countries

According to Jacco van Sterkenburg, a professor of race, inclusion and communication in football and the media at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, explicit racism in stadia is more accepted and normalized in some parts of Spanish and southern European football. “In England and Netherlands, it’s still there but not as prevalent as the aforementioned countries due to the fact that the media, former players and football federations have openly talked about it,” the Dutchman had said to AP.

“When, as a football association, you don’t take a firm stance against it and you don’t repeat that message time and time again, it will reappear. You have to repeat the message that this isn’t allowed, this isn’t accepted. When nothing happens, you should still repeat this message. Some clubs have programs in place where they repeat the message, even when nothing happens. It sets the norm, continuously,” he had said.

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