Spain has reached what may be a turning moment in the battle against racism in sports thanks to the attention the most recent incident of abuse against Real Madrid forward Vincius Jnior has garnered.
Never before had local law enforcement taken action so rapidly to punish players who were insulted by fans, and never before had football officials penalized a team so severely for its racist supporters.
Since Vincius brought attention to Spain by figuratively raising a finger at those who racially assaulted him last weekend in Valencia, things have undeniably changed. However, some of the difficulties that existed before Vinicius' case prompted Spain to take action are still there, particularly when it comes to legally penalizing supporters for their abuse.
Despite the exceptional attention brought on by the recent Vincius case, no one has ever been tried in Spain for racially assaulting a footballer, thus it could be difficult to encourage supporters to start making amends in court.
Prosecutors have already dropped charges in abuse instances similar to the one Vincius was facing on Sunday, including a few other cases involving the Brazilian star.
In 2007, Spain passed a legislation outlawing violence, racism, xenophobia, and intolerance in sports. However, not all instances of racism are legally punishable; rather, only those in which the victim was also intended to suffer bodily or moral damage. There is a lot of room for interpretation, and the majority of incidents, like “monkey” shouts directed against Vincius, wind up falling into a category where the only sanctions are fines and stadium bans.
What will it take to make these folks criminals? Vincius criticized Spain's failure to take action against racism this past week in one of his many tweets on Twitter.
Despite being “inappropriate” and “disrespectful,” the prosecutor who dropped one Vincius case said that the “unpleasant” racist shouts directed at him were part of a football rivalry and were included into the customary crowd jeering during a game. Additionally, he said that the racial slurs “lasted only a few seconds” and “contextualized,” they “did not constitute a crime against the affected person's dignity.”
According to the prosecutor, the inability to completely identify the culprits contributed to the decision to drop the case.
With the justification that the fan's social media pages didn't seem to prove that he was racist, another prosecutor who examined racist chants directed against Athletic Bilbao striker Nico Williams last year decided to drop the case.
The Spanish league, which has been taking action to report these occurrences, chose to move straight to the courts rather than filing official complaints with the prosecutor's office that specializes in hate crimes.
Before the current lawsuit against Vincius occurred, Spanish league head Javier Tebas told The Associated Press that “we were forced to change our tactics.” “We don't want to have to deal with the prosecutors' interpretations. We are immediately filing a lawsuit, and the outcome is different.
Tebas also demanded that the league be given additional authority to impose sanctions since, in his words, his organization can only report the crimes. If given greater power, he said, the league could eradicate racism in six months.
One fan who called Vincius a monkey during a league game in Mallorca was the only one of the racist supporters who may have faced criminal charges prior to the case in Valencia. Vincius and the fan both addressed the judge earlier this year.
Iaki Williams, a striker for Athletic Bilbao and Nico Williams' elder brother, is scheduled to stand trial this year as the first supporter accused of racist abuse in Spanish professional football. A fan of Espanyol abused him during a game in 2020.
Rafael Carlos de Vega, a prosecutor with Spain's Attorney General's Office, told the Associated Press that just because a criminal proceeding was archived doesn't imply that punishment won't be meted out. “These people are being barred from the stadiums because of the severe economic sanctions.”
Nine Valladolid supporters who racially derided Vincius during a game last year were each fined 4,000 euros ($4,300) and banned from the club for more than three years. The three supporters detained this week are not permitted into Valencia's stadium.
The key lesson from all of this, according to De Vega, is that we are calling attention to an issue and that everyone has been responding to it in an effort to prevent it from happening again. “We will have made great progress toward eradicating this problem the moment we have sanctions, clubs react, offenders are banned from stadiums, and people start denouncing these acts,”
In anticipation of further inquiry, all seven individuals who were detained immediately after the vincius case in Valencia generated a stir have been freed. A temporary restraining order prohibits the four people who are currently in custody in Madrid from entering a 1-kilometer (0.62-mile) radius around Madrid's stadium and training facilities, as well as from entering that radius near any football stadium between four hours before and four hours after a Spanish league game. They are accused of hanging an effigy of Vincius off a bridge in January.
In Spain, offenses against a person's moral character are often penalized with six to 24 months in jail instead of the customary one to four years for hate crimes.
Valencia received the largest penalty ever for a club in Spain in racial discrimination cases: a fine of 45,000 euros ($48,200) and the closure of a portion of its stadium for the next five games.
Esteban Ibarra, head of the Madrid-based Movement Against Intolerance, Racism, and Xenophobia, expressed hope that the controversy brought on by the most recent incident of abuse against Vincius will influence how prosecutors handle instances of racism and other similar offenses.
“With the visibility of this case nationally and internationally, I think that the attitude of prosecutors may start to change,” he said to the AP. Perhaps it will alter how people see the prosecutors in these instances.