Madrid | Valencia will appeal the partial closure of its stadium following the racial abuse directed at Real Madrid forward Vinícius Júnior in a Spanish league match, saying the punishment is “unfair and disproportionate.” Spanish soccer's competition committee late Tuesday fined Valencia in 45,000 euros ($48,500) and closed one of the sections of Mestalla Stadium for five games in what is the strongest ever punishment for a club in a case of racism in Spain.
The punishment was part of a strong response by soccer officials and Spanish authorities following an outpouring of support for Vinícius after he was targeted by Valencia fans on Sunday.
Vinícius, who is Black, has been subjected to repeated racial insults since he arrived to play in Spain five years ago. The 22-year-old Brazil forward heavily criticized Spain and its lack of action against racism after the latest incident against him.
“Valencia wants to express its complete disagreement and indignation over the unfair and disproportionate penalty imposed by the competition committee,” the club said in a statement early Wednesday.
“Valencia wants to publicly denounce that the evidence shown by the committee contradicts what the police and La Liga say. This sanction is based on evidence that the club has not been able to see.” Valencia also complained that it was not given a chance to defend itself before the ruling was made. The club said it has been cooperating with police from the start and has acted strongly to condemn what happened at its stadium.
Valencia said not long after the game it would work with authorities to identify those responsible for the abuse, and a day later it banned one person for life for being involved in the incident against Vinícius.
With the club's cooperation, police arrested three people on suspicion of a hate crime for their allege abuse against the Brazilian on Sunday, with all being banned for life from the stadium. The the club said that was the maximum punishment it could impose.
“To punish fans who were not involved in these lamentable incidents is a measure completely disproportionate, unfair and unprecedented,” Valencia said.
“We will fight against it until the end.” The three people spoke to police and were set free as the investigation against them continues. Four other people were detained in Madrid after being accused of hanging an effigy of Vinícius off a highway bridge in January.
Fans have been fined and banned before for attacks on Vinícius, but so far no one in Spain has ever gone to trial on criminal charges for racially abusing a player.
Spain created a specific law against violence, racism, xenophobia and intolerance in sports in 2007, and since then an anti-violence commission composed of several entities has been in charge of monitoring and denouncing cases that may break the law.
But the current legislation stipulates that not all cases of racism can be punished criminally, only those in which there is an extra element affecting the victim. Most cases, including many similar to the ones involving the fans in Valencia, end up falling into a category in which punishment only includes fines and bans from stadiums.
Valencia, which is still fighting against relegation to the second division, has one home game left in the league this season, against Espanyol on Sunday. Espanyol is also trying to avoid demotion. Valencia is in 13th place, five points from the relegation zone.
The section of Mestalla that will be closed is where the insults against Vinícius came from, behind one of the goals. It's also where the club's more hardcore fans usually are located.
The committee late Tuesday also rescinded the red card shown to Vinícius after an altercation with Valencia players late in the game, saying video review did not show the referee images of the full altercation, including the part in which the Brazilian was grabbed from behind by an opponent.
The highly unusual decision drew surprise by many.
“Acts of racism and insults must be censored, but what happens on the field is different,” Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez said.
“It's clear that there was an aggression (by Vinícius) and I am surprised that they took away the red card. One thing has nothing to do with the other.” Late Tuesday, about 100 Brazilian protestors gathered outside the Spanish consulate in Sao Paulo to condemn the racist abuse against Vinícius. The protesters chanted “La Liga is racist” and “end with racism in Spain and in Brazil” for about an hour.