soccer

Spanish soccer fans who insulted Real Madrid's Vinícius Junior sentenced for racial abuse

The three fans were detained after a Spanish league match between Real Madrid and Valencia in May 2023.

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Three Valencia fans have been handed eight-month prison sentences after pleading guilty to racially insulting Real Madrid forward Vinícius Júnior in the first conviction for racism-related cases in professional soccer in Spain.

The fans, whose names were not released, won't be allowed to enter soccer stadiums for two years and will have to pay for the court proceedings.

They were detained after a Spanish league match between Real Madrid and Valencia at Mestalla Stadium in May 2023. The match was briefly stopped after Vinícius was insulted.

That incident sparked an outpouring of support for Vinícius, who is Black, and set off widespread calls for action by Spanish authorities and society in general.

Many saw it as a turning point in the fight against racism in Spanish soccer, although Vinícius continued to be subjected to racist abuse several months after the initial uproar that accompanied the incident at Mestalla.

The sentence found the defendants guilty of a crime against moral integrity with the aggravating circumstance of discrimination based on racist motives.

The fans, who were sitting behind one of the goals at Mestalla, made monkey gestures and sounds toward Vinícius, who immediately called attention of the referee and pointed to the fans in the stands. The Brazil forward had tears his eyes as fans throughout the stadium continued to jeer him.

The case was brought before the courts by the Spanish league, which was joined by the Spanish soccer federation, Real Madrid and Vinícius.

“Together with Vinicius Junior, Real Madrid has acted as the private prosecutor in these proceedings and shall continue to work to protect the values of our club and to eradicate any racist behaviour from the world of football and sport,” the Spanish club said.

Valencia fully cooperated with the investigations and had already banned the fans shortly after the incident at its stadium. But no one had ever gone to trial in Spain for racially abusing a player, and many similar cases of abuse like the one faced by Vinícius had been shelved by prosecutors in the past.

“This ruling is great news for the fight against racism in Spain, as it goes some way to redressing the disgraceful wrong suffered by Vinícius and sends a clear message to those individuals who go to a football stadium to hurl abuse,” Spanish league president Javier Tebas said.

“I understand that there may be some frustration at the length of time it takes for these sentences to be handed down, but this shows that Spain is a country that guarantees judicial integrity,” he said. “Once again we demand that Spanish legislation evolve to give (the Spanish league) sanctioning powers that can speed up the fight against racism.”

The trial against a fan accused of insulting Athletic Bilbao forward Iñaki Williams in a match in 2020 was yet to take place.

The trial in Valencia was expedited after all parties reached an agreement on the sentencing. The original sentencing was for 12 months in prison and three years away from stadiums, but that was reduced in the deal among the parties.

The court said the punishment was reduced in part because the three fans showed remorse and read a letter of apology during the hearing. In the letter, the fans also called for the eradication of all forms of racism and intolerance in competitions.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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