I’ve been holding back a bit just to get as many facts as I could before commenting. There was some mention in the post game interview with Ancelloti that the fans were chanting “tonto” (dummy) not “mono” (monkey). The Spanish papers either downplayed it or seemed to blame Vini. I wanted to hear what the guys at the Spanish Football Podcast had to say as they all live in Spain. They pretty backed up my initial feeling which was that there were some pretty widespread racist abuse being hurled at the player. In fact, they took their cue from Carlo and didn’t talk about soccer at all in this week’s pod.
There is a ton of background to this and I don’t know how much has been mentioned. It started with a Spanish referees official commenting on Vini saying he should do his dancing in Brazil and stop “playing the monkey”. This was right before a derby at Atletico who have a known group of ultras who are essentially Nazis. There was a dummy of Vini hung in effigy and lots of fans making monkey sounds at Vini both before and during the game. It was awful and he’s been dealing with the taunts pretty much all season.
Spain has a massive problem with racism, especially in soccer. Perhaps the biggest problem is that they don’t think it’s a problem. By and large, many people think it’s totally acceptable as a fan to racially abuse a player in this way to get the player off their game. I am willing to bet that a good number of the people chanting in Valencia would even say that they are not racist, that this is just part of their roles as fans to get under an opponent’s skin. Generally speaking, Spain as a country has a problem with race when it comes to labor issues, not too dissimilar from what we see in the US, and it’s especially acute in rural areas that rely on migrant laborers (who used to come mostly from Eastern Europe and now come mostly from Africa) and in particular fields (racism against Asians in the tech industry). Spain as a country was essentially a pariah state closed off to the rest of the world under the Franco dictatorship, so many Spaniards grew up without being exposed to people from different cultures. Add to that the identity politics of the various autonomous communities who see themselves as unique and separate (and often superior) from the rest of Spain, and there is a terrible recipe for rampant racism. Nico Williams was so badly abused by his own fans after missing two golden opportunities to score in their Copa del Rey semi against Osasuna that he shut down his social media accounts. And he’s born-and-raised Basque playing at Athletic Club (if you don’t know, you have to be Basque to play for them). The reality is that the majority of people in Spain including my dear Catalans don’t see a problem with what’s happening at all.
La Liga itself is also to blame here. They’ve generally take a hands off approach and let either the authorities deal with issues of racism or individual clubs to ban fans, which they often do for life. President Tebas has seemingly consistently blamed Vini for being the instigator and the league has done nothing to punish clubs for fan behavior. Nothing will change until clubs have to play before empty stadiums or have their transfer budgets hit.
To end on a positive note, there has been a huge generational shift, at least from what I can see. Younger Spaniards are much more accepting of people who look different, they’re much more likely to have travelled and been exposed to different cultures. People of my grandfather’s generation grew up poor in an isolated country, and rarely left their hometown. Now my cousins travel across Spain and Europe, meet new people, and are much more accepting than their parents.
This is a fantastic response, and I'm not going to be able to add much at all, but I did want to offer a few thoughts on this as well.
In terms of my perspective, I'm an American who has lived in Spain now for 15 years, all in Madrid. I still live in many ways an expat life, partially due to the job I have, but also I suppose decisions I've made, so I in no way have a direct line into Spanish culture or attitudes, and all that follows is largely observational. I also wrote a bit about this in this forum a few years back after a similar incident of racism was discussed here and talked about my own experience at an Atletico game, also against Real Madrid, when Marcello was targeted with racist abuse. It's real, it's rampant, and it's disgusting. You will be hard-pressed to attend a game in Spain that features a black player on the opposing side and NOT hear "mono" or literal monkey noises. In 2023.
First of all, I believe Ancelotti was 100% correct in how he responded after the game. What is tragic is not what happened in Valencia; what is tragic is that it happens in every game Vini plays in. Find any of the people fetching balls on the sidelines and ask them what they hear, and if they're honest, they'll tell you exactly what Vini and Ancelotti have said. That racist abuse happens at soccer games in Spain is not up for debate, and if it doesn't, that has more to do with the hues on the field than the beliefs of the fans.
Now what follows very well might stray into V&N type stuff, but I'll do my best to keep it all connected to the sport. The issue, though, is not soccer, it's where the soccer is being played. Of course it very well might be that a large majority of those that come to watch soccer in Spain do not think that "think it’s totally acceptable as a fan to racially abuse a player in this way to get the player off their game" as @rguilmar
so aptly put it, but there are plenty who do, and plenty more that won't do anything to stop that behavior.
How did we get here? Some of it is undoubtedly ingrained into society here. Spain is a wonderful place in many ways, but it has a troubling past, similar to many other countries. There is also a sense of protecting "tradition" here, which materializes in many wonderful ways like with local festivals celebrating lazy farmers who let God save his child from a well (San Isidro) to artisanal crafts to gorgeous plazas. There's a real sense of history here -- it's one of the reasons so many tourists come! That and the beaches and cheap beer, I suppose... But latent in that same sense of tradition is a belief (of many) that certain things belong the way they always were and that other "aspects" of society need to be protected. This belief has led many to support a growing far-right/anti-progressive political party Vox and has pushed the conservative party (PP) further from the center. One of these aspects is the essentially anti-meritocratic belief that certain positions of power and privilege should be reserved for certain people -- specifically white (and male frequently, though this does seem to be changing a bit). One need only look at some random photographic evidence of this (Directors of the National Police
- scroll down, Spanish Senate
- click randomly). Now Spain is not unique in this, but ask many here to draw a picture of a "Spaniard" and you'll get a white guy. Some of this is due to prevailing European ideas about nationality and immigration, but it's also the idea that many have that even if you were born here, the "where are you from" question is meant to get a city as an answer if you're white and a country as an answer if you're not (now they certainly expect a country from me, but that has far more to do with my accent... totally fair.)
Keep in mind that in Spain, many people still call convenience stores "chinos." Do they mean it in a racist manner? Probably not. is it racist? Well, associating an entire culture and country with a place you buy a bottle of coke or last-minute groceries might develop certain expectations over time.
So, what I want to get at, is that I don't think La Liga can fix this. Punishing the few fans they have on video saying despicable things is necessary, but it won't do much on its own, but damn, doing something at that level is a necessary first step. The problem is that La Liga want this just to go away, and they have found that taking the top off the kettle works much easier than trying to figure out why the stove won't turn off. They do this by responding in the moment with Instagram posts and a few appeals to the DA. Then they wait. The news cycles through (this season is almost over remember), and no systemic change is necessary. That being said, eventually the pot is going to run out of water, and you've got a problem then too. To stretch this metaphor to the ridiculous, that's what happens when players like Vini just get up and fucking leave. Not sure that fixes anything either.
My hope is that this stays in the news for awhile and starts a dialogue. What causes Vini (and others) to get abused started well before the match. It started in households, schools, friend groups. The current dialogue is toxic in many ways (https://elpais.com/espana/elecciones-madrid/2021-04-20/mas-madrid-denuncia-a-la-fiscalia-un-cartel-electoral-de-vox-contra-los-menores-migrantes.html
) but just like existential issues and challenges in other countries can't be solved only with punishments and laws, Spain needs to figure out who it wants to be. This is a good place to start.