La Liga president Javier Tebas said that he rejects the accusations of being called a racist and that the league would do everything in its capacity to curb racism.
Tebas and Real Madrid forward Vinicius Jr were embroiled in a battle of words on Twitter after the latter was racially abused in a La Liga game against Valencia on May 21.
The 60-year-old had asked Vinicius to ‘inform himself’ before accusing the entire league of condoning racism.
“Before criticising and insulting La Liga, it is necessary that you inform yourself properly. Do not let yourself be manipulated and make sure you fully understand each other’s competencies and the work we have been doing together,” he had written in reply to a post by the Brazilian.
On Thursday, Tebas had a softer tone and spoke in a ‘different’ language, addressing reporters at a press conference.
“If I meet him, the first thing I’ll tell him is I’m sorry if I offended you but I didn’t want to accuse you. I’ll explain everything we do [to fight racism] all the time. I won’t explain our remits because that’s very complicated but I would tell him that I’m frustrated too,” he said.
“I hope that Vinicius continues in Spanish football.”
Vinicius was called a ‘monkey’ and was jeered with monkey sounds at the Mestalla Stadium, leaving the youngster in tears.
While he pointed to the person abusing him, no immediate action was taken by the referee. Instead, he was sent off for punching an opponent Hugo Duro in the second half injury-time.
Vinicius took to social media, expressing his anger and called out the Spanish League openly, stating racism is ‘normal’ in La Liga and Spain is ‘a country of racists’.
The red card, after a string of protests, was rescinded while the VAR official Iglesias Villanueva, responsible for giving the card, was suspended.
“I am the president of La Liga and I have been accused of being a racist – something that I do not accept. It affects me to be called a racist,” Tebas said, adding that the league is not able to do anything beyond filing complaints because of its limitations in the judiciary.
After the complaint, three people were arrested while four more were detained for an earlier case of racism against the same player, where his effigy was hung from a bridge ahead of a match against Atletico Madrid.
“Life, sometimes, deals you a difficult hand – someone may have a traffic accident or injury. And you got to get up and continue fighting. This, too, is something unexpected and difficult that we are having to face.
But we can’t just cry in the corner. We need to get our act together and recover the reputation that we lost. We think it doesn’t reflect reality,” Tebas said.
Need for change in the law
In Spain, the applicable regulation for the punishment of racist behaviour is provided for in Law 19/2007, of July 11, against violence, racism, xenophobia and intolerance in sport.
But the power to impose sanctions, as per Article 28, remains with the Spanish Government, without prejudice to the possible powers of the Autonomous Communities, rendering the league powerless.
Tebas stressed that the league has, at times, taken drastic steps against racial abuse, citing the example of the match between Valencia and Cadiz in 2021, where Valencia defender Mouctar Diakhaby was allegedly racially abused by Cadiz’s Juan Cala, and the game was stopped temporarily.
“You must remember that during the pandemic when there was no public, there was a legit insult when the players walked into the dressing rooms to stop the game. So there have been actions taken on some occasions,” he said.
In England, the Premier League has stern measures against racial abuse, irrespective of the FA, involving bans from the competition’s grounds and hefty fines for offenders under the ‘No Room for Racism’ program.
In February 2023, Brazil became the first football federation to use points deduction as a method to curb racism.
Though no such regulation exists within La Liga as per the sports law in Spain, Tebas assured that the change will come now.
“Tomorrow, a communique will go to the minister, the head of government and political parties requesting the law be urgently modified, the law of 2007 against racism, xenophobia and intolerance and requesting competence (for La Liga). Also, based on the new law introduced in December 2022, we are requesting for change in the model of organising leagues to have a more privatised model so that we can bring in measures that allow sanctioning of members,” he said.
Tebas was asked why the league’s urgency has arrived after this incident, involving Vinicius blew up.
The 22-year-old youngster received support from the president of FIFA, Gianni Infantino, the president of Brazil and with his home country showing solidarity by turning off the lights of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro.
“We thought we were making progress in the courts when we filed complaints directly, like the case of Mallorca vs Vinicius, where the perpetrator was banned for three years.
So, we thought we were going in the right direction. But we realise that it is not enough. We need greater agility and more speed (in rendering justice),” he said.