Vinicius Jr. timeline: 16 times Real Madrid star was racially abused by fans

On May 21, 2023, Vinicius Junior was racially abused by fans at Valencia’s Mestalla Stadium. The Real Madrid forward’s reaction, confronting the individuals responsible and criticizing Spanish football’s failure to deal with the issue — he said “racism is normal in LaLiga” — sparked a global surge of support for the player, and he’s been a leading voice in this fight. In 2023, the Vinicius Jr. law was passed in Brazil to combat racism at sporting events.

It wasn’t the first time that Vinicius, who is one of LaLiga’s best and most exciting footballers since coming to the league in 2018, had faced racist abuse inside a stadium. As the player himself said, “It wasn’t the first time, or the second, or the third.” And although the incident led to widespread discussion of Spanish football’s problem with racism and promises from its governing bodies to act decisively, it wasn’t the last incident, either.

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In Spain, racist abuse is classified as a hate crime. The country’s criminal code says those who publicly encourage, promote or incite hatred against an individual or group because of their race can face a prison sentence of up to four years, along with a fine. Sports’ governing bodies — in football’s case, the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) — can order temporary venue closures, and individuals can be banned from entering stadiums. Crucially, LaLiga itself does not have the legal power to punish culprits directly, a situation the league is keen to change.

In this timeline, ESPN chronicles the racist abuse Vinicius has faced while playing for Real Madrid, details what (if any) were the consequences, and discusses where things go from here.

Vinicius was substituted in the 87th minute, with Real Madrid leading 1-0. Leaving the field, he walked around the edge of the pitch to reach the Madrid bench and was racially abused by a fan shouting “monkey” at him. LaLiga filed a complaint with hate crime prosecutors in Barcelona, though the league was later informed that the case would be closed because police “had been unable to identify the perpetrator.”

Vinicius scored in a 3-0 win for Real Madrid, but during the first half, as he disputed a decision with the referee, chants imitating the sound of a monkey could be heard from the crowd, as well as a fan shouting, “Go and get some bananas.” LaLiga filed a complaint with hate crime prosecutors in Mallorca. The league was told no action would be taken because “the sounds made, although they reflect despicable, degrading attitudes, do not initially seem to display, in this case, a criminal dimension.”

Contributor Pedro Bravo — a well-known Spanish football agent — said Vinicius should stop dancing as a goal celebration. “If you want to dance samba, go to the Sambadrome in Brazil,” Bravo said. “Here, you have to respect your fellow players. Stop acting the monkey.”

The comments caused outrage, especially in Brazil. Bravo apologized, saying his remarks had been misinterpreted, and Vinicius responded on social media.

“As long as the color of your skin is more important than the brightness of your eyes, there’ll be war,” Vinicius said. “I have that phrase tattooed on my body. I have that thought in my head, permanently. That is the attitude and philosophy that I try to put into practice in my life.

“They say that happiness bothers people. The happiness of a black Brazilian, victorious in Europe, bothers people a lot more. But my desire to win, my smile and the brightness in my eyes are much bigger than that. … I was a victim of xenophobia and racism. … But none of that started yesterday. … The dances celebrate cultural diversity. Accept it, respect it. I won’t stop.”

Real Madrid issued a statement backing the Brazil star in the wake of that TV show airing — and promising “legal action against anyone who makes racist remarks toward our players” — while several prominent Brazil stars like Neymar and Richarlison also voiced their support. Bravo would later offer an apology for his remarks.

Vinicius played 90 minutes as Madrid beat Atletico 2-1 in the Derby. Before the game, a group of Atletico fans were filmed outside the stadium singing, “Vinicius, you’re a monkey.”

Prosecutors chose not to press charges, saying there was “no specific act to attribute to a specific person” and that the singing, “once contextualized,” did “not constitute a crime against the dignity of the person affected.” The singing was “unpleasant, inappropriate and disrespectful,” prosecutors said, but only “lasted a few seconds.”

Real Madrid were winning 1-0 when Vinicius was substituted in the 88th minute. As he walked alongside the crowd, he was racially abused by fans shouting “black bastard” and “black s—” at him as he headed back to the dugout.

Valladolid — whose president is the former Madrid and Brazil player Ronaldo Nazario — worked with police to identify those responsible. In total, 10 fans had their season tickets removed for three and a half years. Last month, Vinicius gave evidence via videolink in the ongoing criminal case against five people over the incident.

Ahead of a Copa del Rey quarterfinal between Real Madrid and Atletico at the Santiago Bernabeu, an effigy of Vinicius — a mannequin wearing the player’s shirt — was hung from a bridge near Real’s Valdebebas training ground, with a banner saying “Madrid hates Real.” Four members of Atletico’s “Frente Atletico” ultras (a hardcore fan group affiliated with the club) were arrested, after mobile phone records allegedly placed them at the scene.

The investigating judge called it a “clear act of racist humiliation.” Prosecutors are seeking four-year prison sentences, and the trial will take place later this year.

Vinicius played 90 minutes, as Real Madrid lost 1-0. During the game, a TV broadcast microphone picked up the sound of a fan shouting “monkey” at the player. LaLiga filed a complaint, and a criminal investigation was opened. The individual was identified and banned for three years after it emerged that the same fan had also racially abused Samuel Chukwueze — then of Villarreal, now of AC Milan — in the club’s next home game.

Vinicius gave evidence in the criminal case the next month in April, saying he hadn’t heard the insult at the time but felt “offended” when he saw the footage later.

Vinicius played the 90 minutes as Madrid won 2-0. A video later emerged on social media of an Osasuna fan shouting “at least the f—ing black didn’t score” as Madrid’s players celebrated their second goal, scored by Marco Asensio in the 92nd minute.

LaLiga filed a complaint, but the case was dropped in January 2024. The judge said the comments “could constitute an offence,” but the perpetrator had not been identified.

During Madrid’s 0-0 draw at Real Betis, racist chanting aimed at Vinicius was heard from the lower tier, behind one of the goals. LaLiga filed a complaint and in July, police said they had identified an individual and passed that information on to the courts.

In October, the news agency EFE reported that Vinicius had given evidence to the investigating judge via videolink.

Vinicius played 90 minutes as Real Madrid lost El Clásico 2-1. After the game, LaLiga released a statement saying that it had identified “intolerable racist conduct” aimed at Vinicius — with shouts of “monkey” and “Vinicius, die” from the crowd — and that it had filed a formal complaint with a Barcelona court.

Over a year later, there has been no movement in the case.

In the 73rd minute of Real Madrid’s 1-0 defeat, Vinicius confronted fans behind one of the goals who had been shouting “monkey” at him and making gestures imitating the animal. Referee Ricardo de Burgos Bengoetxea activated the league’s anti-racism protocol, with a warning issued over the stadium speakers that if the abuse continued, the game would be suspended. Play resumed in the 78th minute.

Later, in added time, Vinicius was sent off after clashing with Valencia goalkeeper Giorgi Mamardashvili and striking forward Hugo Duro in the face. Vinicius faced no suspension after a review of the incident found the referee had not been shown VAR footage of Duro first grabbing the Brazil international by the neck.

Valencia were hit with a five-game partial closure of the stand where the fans had been located — which was reduced to three games on appeal — and fined $29,273. Three fans were arrested and charged with the criminal case still ongoing; Vinicius gave evidence in October 2023.

“It wasn’t the first time, or the second, or the third. Racism is normal in La Liga,” Vinicius posted on social media after the game. “The competition thinks it’s normal, the [Spanish Football] Federation does too, and opponents encourage it. I’m so sorry. The championship that once belonged to Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Cristiano and Messi today belongs to racists.”

That led to a back-and-forth with LaLiga president Javier Tebas, who responded by attacking the player. “Before criticizing and insulting LaLiga, you need to be properly informed,” Tebas said, adding that “neither Spain nor LaLiga are racist” and arguing that the league was doing its best — with limited powers — to deal with the issue.

“Once again, instead of criticizing racists, the president of LaLiga appears on social media to attack me,” Vinicius replied, posting on Instagram and X (then known as Twitter). “The image of your championship is shaken … Omitting yourself only makes you equal to racists. I’m not your friend to talk about racism. I want actions and punishments. A hashtag doesn’t move me.”

LaLiga later sought to minimize the reputational damage caused by the exchange, with Tebas holding a 90-minute news conference apologizing for any offense caused, highlighting the action the league had taken in reporting racist abuse and asking Spain’s government to grant it more powers to tackle the problem directly.

Vinicius didn’t play in Madrid’s 3-1 defeat — their only loss in LaLiga all season — due to gastroenteritis. However, it later emerged that an 8-year-old girl had suffered a “serious anxiety attack” after receiving racist insults and death threats for wearing a Vinicius shirt outside the stadium before the game. In February 2024, an Atletico Madrid fan was arrested after being identified by police using video evidence.

In the 86th minute, Vinicius was involved in a confrontation with Sevilla players. TV cameras then showed a fan in the crowd making a racist gesture toward the player, imitating a monkey. After the game, Sevilla said that “a member of the public was identified, ejected from the stadium and handed over to legal authorities” after the club had detected “xenophobic and racist behavior.”

Vinicius praised the club’s swift reaction, but also highlighted a video of another young fan making a monkey gesture toward him.

“Congratulations to Sevilla for acting quickly and for the punishment, in another sad episode for Spanish football,” he said. “Unfortunately I have access to a video of another racist act at this Saturday’s game, this time carried out by a child. It’s so sad that there is no one to educate her. I invest, and invest a lot, in education in Brazil … I hope the Spanish authorities do their part, and make changes to legislation. These people need to be criminally punished too. Sorry to sound repetitive, but it’s episode number 19. And counting.”

Vinicius returned to the stadium where he had been racially abused almost a year earlier, and he was whistled by fans every time he touched the ball. He scored twice in a 2-2 draw, celebrating the first goal with a single, raised fist in a gesture of defiance, then cupping his ear to the crowd after his second.

A documentary crew making a film about Vinicius had been denied access to Mestalla, with Tebas saying Valencia had decided not to let them in “as a precautionary measure.” Valencia had reacted angrily to suggestions that the racist abuse of Valencia in the previous game had been widespread, threatening legal action after Vinicius’ teammate Rodrygo Goes said the “entire stadium” was involved.

A group of Atletico fans was filmed shouting “Vinicius, chimpanzee” before the club’s Champions League round-of-16 home leg with Inter. Real Madrid reported the incident to hate crime prosecutors.

Madrid filed a complaint with the RFEF claiming referee Juan Martinez Munuera was “negligent” for failing to include insults aimed at Vinicius in his match report. TV cameras showed part of the crowd at El Sadar singing “Vinicius, die.” Madrid said the referee “voluntarily and deliberately omitted the humiliating chants repeatedly directed toward [Vinicius] … Despite being warned insistently by our players.”

The RFEF offered its “total and unconditional support” to Martinez Munuera, saying the accusations were “unfair” and that “the referee can only include in his report those incidents which occurred on the field of play,” while pointing out that the federation’s match delegate had noted the incident. Osasuna denied that any racist chanting had taken place and condemned the insults “by a minority” of fans.

Speaking to the media ahead of Brazil’s friendly vs. Spain in Madrid — a game organized by the two soccer federations to raise awareness of racism in the sport — Vinicius broke down as he admitted he has “less will to play” because of abuse directed toward him.

“I’ve been here for a long time watching this and I feel more and more sad,” Vinícius said. “I have less and less will to play. With each complaint made I feel worse, but I have to appear here and show my face.

“I have asked for help from UEFA, FIFA, CONMEBOL, CBF — they can fight against that. The problem that exists in Spain is that racism is not a crime.”

It’s worth noting these are just the incidents that have been documented and reported, heard by players and officials or recorded by TV cameras. In a bid to try and tackle the problem, LaLiga now employs a range of surveillance and monitoring. Responsibility for this lies with the league’s match directors — each game has one, who is responsible for every aspect of play and broadcasting — and the league also analyzes match footage using Mediacoach, LaLiga’s data analytics and visualization platform, and monitors social media.

“LaLiga shall continue to report all acts of racism and/or violence taking place inside and outside Spain’s professional football stadiums …,” LaLiga said in a statement. “Furthermore, LaLiga has formally requested an amendment to [current Spanish sports legislation] in order to have formal jurisdiction in these matters.”

Off the pitch, Vinicius works to promote anti-racism initiatives and charitable causes. In February he was named a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for his charity work in education in Brazil.

“It’s annoying to have to always talk about racism,” he said in October 2023. “But I’m prepared to do it, as long as it’s necessary … It’s very sad. I’d like to talk about football.”

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