Racism in Football: What Vini’s story tells us

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For centuries, racism has been a stain on the character of European soccer. But a string of high-profile instances in recent years has led to calls for firmer action from football’s governing organisations.

In the second half of Real Madrid’s game against Valencia on May 21, Vinicius Jr was subjected to terrible racial taunts during a LaLiga match, which has outraged the footballing world. The incident shed light on the not-so-beautiful side of the beautiful game, especially on European soil, bringing to light deeply established racial behaviour and attitudes on and off the field.

Last May, Vinicius Jr scored the winning goal in Real Madrid’s 14th European Cup, and his brilliance has continued to light up the team’s Champions League campaign this season. The extremely gifted 22-year-old, widely regarded as one of the world’s top players, has scored six goals in seven European matches and eight more in LaLiga. But he has also been a recurring target of “hate crimes” in Spain. However, Vinicius Jr’s case is not the first time when Europe’s bigotry and recklessness regarding the waves of racism in soccer has been revealed, which ultimately exposes the underlying racism across European society. Despite numerous campaigns, initiatives, and movements aiming to tackle racism in football, figures from inclusion and diversity charity Kick It Out have shown that cases of racist abuse rose by 53 percent between 2019-2020. Besides, LaLiga has disclosed to CNN Sport 12 distinct incidents of racial abuse directed towards Black footballers dating back to January 2020, which it had reported to local authorities. If the sport is viewed as a microcosm of society, current storylines mirror the situation of race relations in society.

Against such a backdrop, it’s critical to understand that racism is a problem that transcends political beliefs, even though the growth of far-right politics has facilitated the rise of racism in football. Racism can take many different forms and be impacted by a variety of elements, such as cultural biases, socioeconomic inequalities, and historical prejudices.

Football, racism, and Vinicius Jr

The most recent incident involving Brazilian star Vini Jr occurred during Real Madrid’s 1-0 loss to Valencia in a recent match, when the game was momentarily halted after the striker claimed he was abused by a supporter from behind one of the goals at Mestalla Stadium. After the game, Vinicius Jr criticised LaLiga on social media for their continuous silence, saying that racism is common in LaLiga and that this incident was not the first, second, or third of its kind. He claims that the federation and the competition both view this as normal and even promote it. Ahead of the derby against Atletico Madrid in January, an effigy of Vinicius was hanged from a bridge in Madrid, while racist slurs have been caught on camera during Real’s matches at Osasuna, Mallorca, Real Valladolid, and Atletico.

The footballing community, which was understandably stunned by the events of May 21, has reacted quickly to rally around Vinicius Jr. Neymar Jr, a fellow countryman, wrote a post on Instagram in his support. Kylian Mbappe also sent him a note of unity, saying, “You’re not alone; we’re with you and we support you.” Xavi Hernandez, manager of Barcelona, has denounced the incident of racism that Vinicius encountered on Sunday at Valencia’s Mestalla. The Terrassa coach thinks that football needs to take decisive action and declare that enough is enough in order to prevent situations like this from happening again.

Even the political world has been rocked by the occurrence. During the G7 Summit in Japan, at a press conference, Brazilian President Luis Enacio Lula de Silva offered his take. In particular, he hoped LaLiga and Fifa would take serious action to prevent the rising incidents of racism and fascism at football stadiums.

Long-term causes of racism in soccer

Indeed, the recent surge of far-right movements in Europe has had an effect on a number of societal facets, including LaLiga and other competitions. Politics on the far right frequently promotes xenophobic, nationalistic, and racist viewpoints. These philosophies are inciting bigotry and intolerance towards people of other racial, religious, or national backgrounds. Besides, this can take many forms, including violent attacks against players and spectators, racist slurs, and discriminatory chants. There have also been occasions where far-right political rubrics have contributed to the nurturing of racism within football communities, despite the fact that not all incidences of racism in football can be traced back to them directly.

Racist taunts against players from various origins have included racial slurs, gestures, and even physical assault. Players and spectators who do not adhere to the criteria promoted by far-right beliefs are forced to live in a hostile and unwelcoming environment as a result of their acts. Also, social media platforms have made it possible to transmit racist and vile sentiments, which has the potential to strengthen and spread far-right views. As a result, it has become simpler for individuals to plan and orchestrate racist attacks during football games.

Can football do more?

Numerous parties, including clubs, players, supporters, and football regulatory organisations, have contributed to the response to racism in football. There have been initiatives to increase awareness about the issue, impose harsher penalties for racist behaviour, and encourage diversity and inclusion in the sport. But combatting racism in football requires a multifaceted strategy that includes law, education, and the shifting of societal attitudes. This pernicious spectre continues to cast its ominous shadow, tainting the sport we love. And we must face this issue as impassioned advocates of the beautiful game, not as casual bystanders.

To address the impact of racism on the game and on affected victims, football must adopt a proactive approach. Efforts must be made to create a zero-tolerance atmosphere against such prejudices. Eliminating racism in football demands a collaborative approach from all parties. Together, we can build a footballing landscape that welcomes diversity, supports inclusion, and reflects the genuine essence of the game. In this case, anti-racism looks to be gaining traction through social movements such as #BlackLivesMatter and #TakeAKnee. While measures to promote race equality have helped, recent occurrences illustrate that there is still a long way to go.

– Saume Saptaparna Nath and Syed Raiyan Amir is a Research Associate at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).

Published in The Daily Star [Link]