Vinícius Júnior is essentially persecuted and hunted for sport | real Madrid

Yon 1997, Roberto Carlos suffered racial abuse while playing his first clásico with Real Madrid. Barcelona fans made monkey chants every time he touched the ball, held up racist banners and even scrawled the word “monkey” on his car as a special gift for him to find later.

No charges or punishments were handed down and if, after publicly complaining, Carlos had hoped for a bit of professional solidarity at this most harrowing time, he was out of luck. “This gentleman talks a lot, he talks too much, he doesn’t know our fans and he hasn’t been here long to justify these things,” the Barcelona midfielder, an international with Spain named Pep, replied that day. Guardiola.

It would be nice to imagine that we have made some progress in the intervening quarter century: that black footballers could go about their business in one of the biggest leagues in the world without having to navigate the horrible obstacle course of racism, that the game itself She herself wouldn’t be so eager to play it down. And yet, there are moments, when you look at the case of Vinícius Júnior, when you start to wonder.

It is difficult to pinpoint when Vinícius began to be targeted for abuse by opposition fans. There were some monkey chants at Mallorca’s Son Moix stadium this month, some shouting from the Osasuna winger during the minute’s silence for the earthquake in Turkey and Syria, the effigy hanging from a motorway bridge near the training ground of the Real Madrid last month, decked out in the red and white colors of Atlético de Madrid.

But this has been going on for over a year now, a creepy gauntlet of otherness and dehumanization that seems to have taken on a horrifying performative quality. Somehow, the longer it goes on, the more routine it becomes, the more and less shocking it becomes. You feel like Carlo Ancelotti’s heart breaks a little more every time he has to talk about it. And so, most weekends, Vinícius simply sighs, laces up his boots, and prepares for what comes next.

While individual incidents continue to gain coverage in the Spanish media, there seems to be very little sense of the bigger picture, very little of the anger, urgency and introspection that could drive change. One of the best footballers in the world is essentially being slaughtered on a weekly basis, hunted and harassed for sport.

Who, exactly, do we see on this? Where are the point deductions, the stadium bans, the bone-breaking fines? Where are Uefa and Fifa, who are quite happy to exploit Vinícius’s talent to promote their own competitions but have had nothing to say about it?

The idea has spread that Vinícius Júnior even brings abuse on himself with his celebrations. Photo: Ian Stephen/ProSports/Shutterstock

There have been the usual beige statements, the usual buck step, the usual misunderstanding. La Liga argues that it is powerless to enforce sporting sanctions and instead refers all cases to the judicial system, which has proven to be a wholly inadequate referee. After Atlético fans were filmed chanting “Vinícius, you are a monkey” at a match against Real Madrid in September, Madrid prosecutors refused to press charges, arguing that the chants had been “disrespectful” but lasted. just a few seconds and they needed to be removed. seen in the context of the “fierce rivalry” between the clubs.

For much of Spanish society, this remains a curiously prevalent mindset: that racist bullying is somehow mitigated by its sporting context or is just a particularly impolite form of booing. You will still see the opinion expressed that opposition fans are simply trying to gain a competitive advantage by trying to rile Vinícius into reacting, which they occasionally get. (Racism: the original marginal gain).

Along with this is the idea that Vinícius provokes these strong feelings through his swagger, his behavior on the pitch, his dance celebrations. In September, a guest on the popular television show El Chiringuito de Jugones said, with maximum irony or none at all, that Vinícius should “stop playing the monkey”.

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Atlético’s condemnation of its own fans came with the warning that it was “everyone’s responsibility” to ensure harmonious relations between the two clubs. On TV and radio shows, coverage of Vinícius’s behavior often gets as much attention as the abuse he receives, as if they were two equal sides of an argument, as if Vinícius’s basic humanity was nothing more than a telephone debate.

This is, in many ways, a textbook example of how victims of racism are often duped: abused and then forced to accept complicity in their own abuse. There has been some idle speculation, because there really isn’t a football story unless you have a transfer angle, that Vinícius may tire of his treatment and leave La Liga. But to isolate this as a purely Spanish disease is to misunderstand the nature of the problem. Also, given the frequent online abuse of prominent black Premier League players, there doesn’t seem to be much point in regarding England as a gold standard.

And so, every week, stakeholders wring their hands and insist that something must be done. And every week Vinícius keeps playing, to a chorus of jeers and hisses and usually something far more sinister. Racism has always chosen his targets unequally and on some level we should expect his talent, fame and wealth to offer him some protection. The treatment of him, instead, raises a burning question: if football cannot protect Vinícius, what chance does he have with the others?

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