Brazil vs Spain’s anti-racism match: Vinicius Junior disappointed and no money to charity


On Tuesday night, Brazil and Spain took to the pitch at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid for a friendly international intended to combat racism, in part in response to the abuse that Vinicius Junior has received in and around the Spanish game in recent years.

But there was a feeling among those close to the Real Madrid and Brazil forward — who wish to remain anonymous to protect relationships — that more should have been done by the Spanish football federation.

There was a photo opportunity the previous day involving a couple of players from each squad — Lamine Yamal, Vinicius Jr himself, Nico Williams and Rodrygo — and a “one skin” slogan in both Spanish and Portuguese on pitchside advertising hoardings.

For Brazil’s part, they named Vinicius Jr as captain for the match and their players emerged from the tunnel before kick-off wearing jackets with the game’s two mottos — “one identity” was the other. Brazil also used a backdrop featuring both phrases for their pre-match press conferences the previous day, but Spain did not.

Then on Tuesday, there was not much to signal that the Spanish football federation was taking a stand.

And despite the two FAs expecting to generate around €5million (£4.3m; $5.4m) in total from the friendly, none of that money is to be donated to charities — anti-racism ones or otherwise.

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Vinicius Jr on Monday with the game’s slogans in Portuguese behind him (Federico Titone/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The match was announced in June last year by the two federations in the hope it would “serve to reinforce a commitment against violence and racism in football”.

Vinicius Jr has been fighting that battle for years. On Monday, he broke down in tears at Brazil’s pre-match media session while explaining the toll repeated racist abuse has taken on him. “I feel sadder and sadder and I have less and less desire to play,” he said. “But I want to keep fighting.”

Since October 2021, the Spanish public prosecutors’ office has registered 18 different complaints of alleged racist abuse or hate against him. These range from racist chanting outside and inside stadiums where he is playing for Madrid, to the effigy of the player that was hung near the club’s training ground, before a derby against city rivals Atletico in January last year.

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“It didn’t turn out as we had all hoped,” one of those close to Vinicius Jr told The Athletic. “The RFEF (the Spanish football federation) has not taken advantage of this match to work (in recent months) on changing the rules, to meet with the government to change the laws and have sanctions.

“All of them sold the idea of a match against racism — which, in reality, it was not.”

It is understood the RFEF has not made changes to its regulations on “violent, xenophobic or intolerant conduct” since the announcement of the Brazil friendly last summer. Federation sources say it does not have the ability to punish fans directly but only as part of the government’s anti-violence commission, on which it sits.

Spain has a law against violence, racism, xenophobia and intolerance in sports, but not all hate crimes lead to a criminal sanction.

In December 2022, prosecutors in Madrid shelved a case over racist chanting aimed at Vinicius Jr before a game against Atletico as they found they had lasted “just a few seconds” and took place within the context of “a football game with maximum rivalry”, meaning it was “not a crime against the dignity of the person affected”.

Monday’s press conference provided Vinicius Jr with a platform to speak passionately and defiantly about the abuse he has suffered.

“What frustrates me most is the lack of punishment,” he said. “In Barcelona, a case involving a friend of mine was shelved. Punishments are not going to change these people’s minds, but (it would mean) they would be afraid to do that.”

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Vinicius Jr broke down in tears three times in Monday’s press conference (Diego Souto/Getty Images)

And there were some strong voices supporting him before and after Tuesday’s game.

“Vinicius went to talk about football at the press conference,” Brazilian federation (CBF) president Ednaldo Rodrigues told The Athletic in the Bernabeu’s mixed zone after the teams drew, 3-3. “He responded to everything that happens to him and what he lives on and off the field — it was a message for the whole world.

“Everyone here, including you in the press, has to spread more and more (the significance) of discrimination and especially racism. There are many athletes who suffer and protect themselves in one way or another. Some keep quiet, others protect themselves… but Vinicius does the right thing when he doesn’t stand still when he suffers discrimination and responds.”

“What happened to him is not fair,” Brazil head coach Dorival Junior added, describing Vinicius Jr as a boy with an “open heart” to The Athletic. “People who committed a crime have to be penalised… The Spanish people don’t deserve people who represent them with that idea.”

Former Real Madrid, Arsenal and Brazil striker Julio Baptista had equally strong words when asked about his compatriot’s tearful press conference.

“It hurts me,” Baptista said. “Everything he is going through pains me. All of us in sport have to be aware of everything that is happening — racism is a question of education. I think, and I believe, that there has to be much more severe sanctions so that people who do that don’t go to the stadium.”

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Vinicius Jr looked far from his best in the game (Alberto Gardin/Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images)

But there were others who did not seem to understand the scale of the problem.

Before Vinicius Jr’s press conference on Monday, his Spain international Madrid team-mate Dani Carvajal told reporters at the home side’s equivalent media session that he didn’t think it is “a racist country”, and added, “I have friends with a different skin colour”.

Many outlets in Spain have equated Vinicius Jr’s on-pitch behaviour, seen as provocative by some, with the abuse he receives. One newspaper column this week said he should ask “why the same thing that happens to him doesn’t happen to (Jude) Bellingham, Rodrygo or (Eduardo) Camavinga”, Madrid team-mates who are also Black. The article was titled: Vinicius has a problem and it’s not chanting.

That idea was repeated by Donato, a Brazil-born former Spain international who played for Spanish clubs Atletico and Deportivo La Coruna from the late 1980s until the early 2000s. The Athletic previously interviewed Donato about his own experiences with racism in Spain, and he appeared to have little sympathy for Vinicius Jr.

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“It’s something you have to put up with,” he said. “What are you going to do? Stop playing?

“Not only Vinicius is Black, there’s Rodrygo, several players at Madrid. Why do they only pick on Vinicius? You have to stop and think a little bit. To help Vinicius, I would tell him to think about the things that are leading him to this situation. These are things that happen off the pitch.”

The general consensus of those supporting Vinicius Jr is that stronger sanctions are needed. FIFA, world football’s governing body, intends to discuss imposing stricter measures to fight racism, which it describes as an “unacceptable scourge on the game”, at its next congress in Thailand in May.

Those close to Vinicius Jr believe Tuesday would have been a good time for the Spanish football federation to show its dedication to the fight taken up by the player and so many other Black footballers.

Instead, it feels like a missed opportunity.

(Top photo: Alberto Gardin/Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images)





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