Racism in sport is nothing new. The latest incident of Real Madrid winger Vinicius Junior being subjected to racial abuse at Valencia’s Mestalla Stadium during a La Liga match last Sunday might have shaken and stirred the footballing world, but the Spanish league has been notoriously consistent in turning a blind eye to racist chants at the stadiums.
In 2006, Barcelona’s Cameroonian striker Samuel Eto’o threatened to walk out of a match at Real Zaragoza after being at the receiving end of monkey chants. The referee’s report did not mention the incident.
In 2014, Barca’s Brazilian defender Dani Alves was thrown a banana by the Villarreal fans. Alves bit back at racism by eating the banana. Villarreal were fined just €12000, everyone forgot about it, life moved on. “It was one of those isolated incidents,” it was said.
These “isolated incidents” just continued to add up — Vinicius has been a victimof racial abuse 10 timessince 2021.
Racism has become a bigger bane than doping in football. Unemployment, frustration, herd mentality and getting carried away in excitement lead to fans becoming racists. They also target the opponent’s best player. Vinicius is one of the most talented and popular players in the world and his silken skill is a joy to watch.
“It’s a global problem,” Mohun Bagan’s Spanish coach Juan Ferrando told The Telegraph on Thursday. “There is an overall decadence in the society and it’s reflected in the stadiums. There is a lack of respect everywhere. Even during Mohun Bagan versus East Bengal matches, the crowd behaves the same way you will see in Spain or any other European ground,” he added.
Vinicius has labelled Spain and La Liga as racist but Ferrando doesn’t buy that. “Spain is not a racist country,” he emphasised.
His compatriot and former Bagan coach Antonio Lopez Habas agreed. “No way is our country racist.” He, however, fears that this incident will have an adverse impact on the country’s image. “It is not good for a country whose main source of income is international tourism. Doubts would be raised about safety since the Vinicius incident has been amplified.”
Habas, who managed Valencia for 14 games in 2005 and also worked as the youth system coordinator at the Mestalla, also believes the city and a club of Valencia’s stature should not be judged by this incident. “The radical groups at the stadiums instigate racist chants. Valencia, and I can vouch for that, is not racist.”
Some 14 years back, in Barcelona, this reporter was made aware of his skin colour in a not-so-crowded Metro when a Catalan avoided sitting next to him. It was subtle but one did not miss the antipathy. “Historically we are tolerant. People of different ethnic backgrounds have stayed together in Spain. We are a very hospitable country, but society is increasingly getting polarised at the political level,” Habas argued.
La Liga chief Javier Tebas has blamed the Spanish football federation, saying if the league had the authority to take action inside the stadiums, the problem of racist and homophobic chanting “would be resolved within months”.
That has to be taken with dollops of salt. La Liga has done precious little to counter racism in stadiums. One of the most competitive leagues in the world cannot afford to sit back and relax when it comes to this scourge. Otherwise, the day is not far ahead when players will avoid plying their trade in La Liga.