There is a particular aspect of frustration for Vinícius Júnior stemming from Sunday night, when the Brazilian forward was sent off during Real Madrid’s 1-0 loss to Valencia at Mestalla after suffering yet another instance of racial abuse. In the 71st minute of the game, with play stopped, Vinícius singled out a fan in the stands who had been calling him a “monkey,” and went over to point him out. “That one, that one,” said the player, while the cameras followed his outstretched arm. Images of Vinícius standing by the hoarding, surrounded by teammates, have been published the world over. But not one of the perpetrator has been released.
On Monday, Vinícius highlighted this incongruity on social media. “How many of these racists have had their names and photographs exposed on websites? I can answer that to make it easier: zero.” One of the things the Brazilian has been pursuing for some time is to have those who hurl racist abuse at players identified. According to sources close to the player, he feels that the attackers are always kept out of the public eye, while the cameras remain firmly on him, as was the case in Mestalla. “It’s not soccer, it’s inhumane,” he wrote.
Vinícius has been the target of racist abuse on numerous occasions in Spain, and he has led a personal campaign to force the authorities to address the problem. But it was in Brazil that the seed of his struggle was sown. During a game between Botafogo and Flamengo, his former club, shortly after he had agreed terms to move to Real Madrid, Vinicíus, who was then 17, played 15 minutes without incident and was only informed of racist abuse aimed at him by a Botafogo fan after the match. Inspired by LeBron James in the battle against racism, in 2021, Vinícius had some lyrics based on the Bob Marley song War tattooed onto his right leg, and they have since served as a motto for the Brazilian: Until the color of a man’s skin/Is of no more significance than the color of his eyes/Me say war.
Like the NBA star, Vinícius believes he can use his place in the public eye to encourage change. And he has some ideas on how to go about it. “Why don’t sponsors punish LaLiga? Doesn’t broadcasting this atrocity every week bother the television channels? These are not isolated cases,” he wrote on Monday.
Six months after he unveiled his tattoo, Vinícius presented his foundation in Brazil, the Vini Jr. Institute, which promotes a program to train teachers to tackle racism. The plan is aimed at public school teachers and addresses issues such as “the loneliness of Black children in the school environment and the importance of anti-racist education in Brazilian schools” and “the subtlety of recreational racism and the devastating impact it has on the mind of a Black child.” The presentation of the plan sums up the spirit embraced by Vinicius: “We will not back down! On the contrary. A new Black generation is coming, much more prepared to fight racism and its consequences.”
The racist abuse at Mestalla, coupled with the fact that the fan he identified was not revealed, and his subsequent expulsion, left the Brazilian feeling “surprised, disoriented and angry,” according to a club source. When he went to Real Madrid’s Valdebebas training complex on Monday morning, he was met by the club president, Florentino Pérez, who had landed in Madrid at 7:00 a.m. Pérez explained that the club had opened legal proceedings by filing a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office, and detailed other steps they would take, including a statement issued on Monday afternoon, in which the Madrid president accused the Spanish federation of failing to act and leaving Vinícius unprotected. “Against injustice and repugnance, you have the whole club with you and specifically me on the front line,” Pérez told him.
Vinicius has engaged in a war of words with LaLiga president Javier Tebas since the latest incident. Not only does he believe that not enough has been done to protect him, but he was particularly angered by Tebas’ criticism shortly after the Mestalla match. Moreover, according to the player’s entourage, Tebas provided an inaccurate version of some meetings supposedly arranged at the player’s request to address the issue, stating that Vinícius had failed to attend. A source close to the player says that it was in fact Tebas’ team that suggested the meetings, but they decided against them when they suspected that Vinícius would release what was discussed to the media and that LaLiga was reluctant to talk about the only thing that interests the player: punishments for racist abuse.
Vinícius’ disenchantment has raised the possibility of leaving Real Madrid to move to another league, but his inner circle believes that it is not something he is considering at the moment. However, the same sources point out that it is difficult for them to imagine Vinícius seeing out the four years remaining on his contract at the Bernabéu under these circumstances. The ongoing racist abuse is taking its toll on his family, his friends and Vinícius himself. His entourage view the way the English Premier League handles racism with some envy, although they believe he still has the strength to continue in Spain. On the day he published a photograph of his tattoo on Twitter, Vinícius accompanied the image with a message: “And we will fight until the end.”
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