The Troubling Dynamic Between Soccer and Racism


Zealan Munsey, Photographer

In the 21st century, many feel inclined to say racism and prejudice are on their way out. Nonetheless, that is far from the truth of our “open and welcoming society.”

Yes, there have been international pushes and campaigns to combat the evil that is racism, but sadly it has proved to be not enough so far.

Professional sports associations like the National Football League (America) have shown solidarity with social justice, putting phrases like “End Racism” behind the endzone. The National Basketball Association (America) painted “Black Lives Matter” on their courts in Orlando during the 2020 bubble.

 Now to soccer, the Premier League, the top flight of English football, have voiced their opinion on racial matters, creating a “No Room for Racism” campaign. Clubs around the league featured black patches on their kit’s sleeves, with the slogan and Premier League logo embroidered.

These efforts have not gone unnoticed in soccer and have helped bring attention to the matters at hand. It shows that even in the 2020s, racial and ethnic groups still deal with bigotry and hatred rooted in racism, even while playing the beautiful game.

England has nothing to do with my point, but I wanted to point out what at least one country is doing to show its stance.

Spain has been at the forefront of the headlines in the soccer world for the past few days.

La Liga is the highest soccer league in Spain and features multiple top teams, most notably FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF. 

Vinicius Jr., or Vini, is the left-winger for Real Madrid and proves time and time again his elite talent, racking up both goals and assists. The Brazilian is considered by many to be among the best in the world.

On May 21, 2023, in a La Liga matchup between Real Madrid and Valencia, Vini encountered multiple instances of verbal racism.

Clips of the Real team bus pulling towards the stadium as Valencia supports chanting songs saying, “Vinicius, you are a monkey.”

Then again, towards the end of the match, the star player heard a voice in the stands say, “monkey, monkey.” He has also reported other racial comments to be said, and not by just a few fans. 

From a black mannequin wearing his #20 Real Madrid kit hanging from a Spanish bridge to fans shouting the n-word at matches throughout the past few seasons, Vinicius has faced much racial hate in his time in Spain. When checking his Twitter, you can find a whole video of horrific incidents of overt racism.

It seems to be not a huge deal to the governing bodies of football. FIFA, the international governing body of football, hasn’t seemed to speak with La Liga or the clubs, at least publicly. No punishment has been administered as well, except for just stadium bans for a few fans that were confirmed to harass Vinicius Jr. during the Valencia match.

Another incident was in 2021 when Bukayo Saka and his Black teammates on the England national team missed their penalty kicks. The young players were slandered on social media, and other Black people fell victim to racial hatred, with a Black man being pushed into the River Thames and another onto a train track.

In 2014, bananas were thrown at Barcelona right-back Dani Alves while he was standing on the sideline. He promptly picked one up and ate it, but I’m sure it affects the players more than they let on; they are people too.

Yes, they throw patches on players and have them hold flags before matches. La Liga, for example, in response to the Valencia – Real Madrid match, had teams hold banners saying “Racists, out of football”. So they can make Instagram posts and have press conferences saying they “condemn the actions,” but it doesn’t do anything. Fans across the globe are essentially free to berate the players of their choosing, even for the color of their skin.

It may be said that, well, they can’t arrest them for words, and they can’t stop the words from leaving their tongues. But they can show they truly do not tolerate the injustices posed on the innocent footballers just trying to do what they love.