Star player says Spanish soccer 'belongs to racists' after abuse during game

La Liga said it would take appropriate action if criminal wrongdoing is uncovered, though its president also criticized the player’s response.

Valencia said Monday that police had identified a fan who made racist gestures and were using footage to identify any others.

“The club strongly condemn this type of behavior, which has no place in football and society,” it said, adding that those responsible would be given a lifetime ban.

Vinícius has suffered racist abuse throughout his time in Spain, where he moved as a teenage prodigy five years ago.

“It was not the first time, nor the second, nor the third. Racism is normal in La Liga,” Vinícius posted on Twitter after the game.

He contrasted the ugliness of the abuse he faced with the sublime skills of famous names who have graced La Liga over the years, including Brazilian superstars Ronaldo and Ronaldinho, Argentinian hero Lionel Messi and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo.

The league that once belonged to them “now belongs to racists,” he said. “But I’m strong and I will fight until the end against the racists. Even if far from here.”

He said Spain was “a beautiful nation, which welcomed me and which I love, but which accepted to export to the world the image of a racist country. I am sorry for those Spaniards who disagree but today, in Brazil, Spain is known as a country of racists.”

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Vinicius reacted to the abuse from the crowd on Sunday, confronting fans while players from both teams sought to restore calm.Alberto Saiz / AP

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, widely known as Lula, leapt to the player’s support.

“I would like to express my solidarity with our Brazilian player, a poor boy who succeeded in life and is potentially becoming one of the best players in the world, certainly the best at Real Madrid. And he is attacked in every stadium he plays in,” he told reporters at a news conference Sunday at the G-7 summit in Japan.

Lula added that he hopes soccer’s governing bodies “take measures so we don’t allow racism and fascism to take over.”

Other officials and players from Brazil and beyond spoke out against the abuse.

Real Madrid’s legendary coach, Carlo Ancelotti, told reporters in a post-game interview that he would not discuss events on the field. “What we saw today is unacceptable — an entire stadium chanting racist slurs,” he said, adding that he had told the referee he should have stopped the match.

Luis Rubiales, head of Spanish soccer’s governing body, RFEF, said Monday that he agreed with Vinícius that the country does have a problem with racism.

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Vinícius Jr. during Sunday’s game at Valencia’s Mestalla Stadium.Alberto Saiz / AP

But not everyone was so supportive.

“Before you criticise and slander La Liga you need to inform yourself properly @Vinijr,” league president Javier Tebas wrote on Twitter.

He accused the player of attacking the league without fully understanding what it had been doing to combat racism, and said that Vinícius failed to turn up for two meetings he had requested with league officials to discuss the matter.

The league has made nine formal complaints over racist abuse against Vinícius over the last two seasons, with many of the cases being shelved. A Mallorca fan may end up going on trial after allegedly racially insulting the Brazilian during a game.

A mannequin wearing Vinícius’ number 20 jersey was hung from a bridge outside Real Madrid’s training facility ahead of a key game against local rivals Atletico Madrid in January. Police said at the time they were investigating the incident.

The Brazilian star— whose full name is Vinícius José Paixão de Oliveira Júnior — is one of world soccer’s brightest talents, known for his dazzling trickery and ball control. This season he has scored 23 goals in 54 appearances even as his team endured a disappointing campaign.

Racism targeted at Black players has been widely reported across Europe in recent years.

England’s national men’s soccer team, with several outstanding young Black players, decided it would leave the field of play in the event of racist abuse.

England did just that while playing Bulgaria in 2019, though its own fans were also called out for racially abusing English players after the team’s defeat in the European Championships final in 2020.

Associated Press contributed.