Vini Jr

"Missing piece of the puzzle in fight against racism" – why Vinicius Jr’s abusers being sentenced to prison is historic milestone for players


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Vini Jr
  • Three individuals were jailed for eight months and banned from attending football matches for two years after being found guilty of abusing Vinicius Jr

  • The racist chants were aimed at the Real Madrid star during a La Liga game at Valencia's Mestalla Stadium on 21 May 2023

  • Former USA international Justin Morrow, a member of FIFPRO’s EDI Committee, says that the legal decision is “piece of hope that we needed”

Vinicius Jr vowed to continue his fight against racism after three fans were jailed for abusing him. The racist chants were aimed at the Real Madrid star during a La Liga game at Valencia's Mestalla Stadium on 21 May 2023.

Three individuals were found guilty of a "crime against moral integrity" with "aggravating circumstance of discrimination based on racist motives", jailed for eight months, and banned from attending football matches for two years. They are the first criminal convictions for racially abusing a footballer in Spain.

Reacting to the sentences, Vinicius Jr said: "Many asked me to ignore it, many others said that my fight was in vain and that I should just "play football". But, as I've always said, I'm not a victim of racism. I am a tormentor of racists.

"This first criminal conviction in the history of Spain is not for me. It's for all black people. May other racists be afraid, ashamed and hide in the shadows. Otherwise, I'll be here to collect."

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Real Madrid players show support for Vinicius Jr

Former USA defender Justin Morrow, a member of FIFPRO’s EDI Committee, welcomed the "absolutely historic" decision. Speaking to FIFPRO, Morrow said: "It's a milestone because it's been a missing piece of the puzzle in the fight against racism.

"It's also a great example of player activism success because the sentence was a direct result of a complaint filed by La Liga. Vini was the one that challenged La Liga when he was racially abused around this time last year and sent the message on social media saying they can do better.

"As a direct consequence of that interaction, La Liga launched a campaign that started this season to fight racism, but now this is a crucial step further – it's even more important than a campaign. It's been historic to see this happen."

"The piece of hope we needed"

The sentence handed to the individuals found guilty of abusing Vinicius Jr is all the more striking in the context of several incidents of racial abuse aimed at players in recent times.

"It wasn't just Vini. It was Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka and Jadon Sancho. It was Romelu Lukaku," said Morrow. "It was also guys like Son Heung-min in the Premier League getting racially abused. It’s not just anti-black racism, we've seen other forms of racism. And you ask yourself: how can this continue after so many years, after so much effort, after so much attention?"

Morrow believes that the legal decision to jail Vinicius Jr’s abusers will have a far-reaching impact on players going forward. "It's that piece of hope that we needed. The fight has been going on for a long time and players are tired – they’re tired of fighting it.

"This gives us the hope to continue the fight; you need that hope to keep you energised. This is a win that we've needed for a very long time."

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Justin Morrow at Toronto FC

A former USA international, Morrow retired in November 2021 after twelve years playing in Major League Soccer, most notably for San Jose Earthquakes and Toronto FC. He was one of a number of players in 2021 who contributed and shared their own personal experiences to FIFPRO’s report on discrimination in football.

A full-back during his playing days and now Head of Sports Programs and Partnerships at the USC Race & Equity Centre, Morrow also helped establish Black Players for Change to put footballers at the heart of the fight against racism and discrimination. He has experienced the power of players using a collective voice to help bring about positive change.

"I think the most important thing that Black Players for Change does is create a community for black players in this sport, both in Major League Soccer and around the world.

"Last year, when Lukaku was racially abused throughout a Coppa Italia match against Juventus and he then scored, he did a celebration, things escalated from there, and he got a red card. Black Players for Change organised the following week players throughout Major League Soccer to do the same celebration that Lukaku did, in support of him to show that we're fighting this together with him.

"It was amazing to see how many players participated in that and it’s an example of the environments that we're creating where black players in Major League Soccer feel like they have a voice. There are little wins that we can talk about in terms of representation and policies, but the major thing is we're continuing to lead and we're continuing to be a voice that puts pressure on different systems."

"Players are the centre of the sport"

Morrow is also a member of FIFPRO’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Committee, who play a critical role in defining, creating and delivering the organisation's global EDI strategy. "The goal of the EDI committee is to make the sport more inclusive in all ways, and this obviously includes the fight against racism.

"Importantly, it shows the power of the players and their voice – we've seen time and time again that the players are the centre of everything in this sport.

"If the committee can better support FIFPRO member unions on matters of EDI through information, sharing, collaboration, and strategy, then we can better support our players around the world, help them make the game more inclusive and help solve some of the challenges that players are facing with racism."

A FIFPRO report released in January 2024 highlights the scale and impact of verbal and physical abuse by fans towards professional footballers in the men’s game, while also suggesting measures to increase workplace safety and protect player well-being.

FIFPRO Men’s Football Workplace Safety Report: The Impact of Violence Towards Footballers in Their Workplace draws on player interviews, a survey of 41 national player unions and media reviews. It can be downloaded in full HERE.