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Fans sentenced to prison for racist insults directed at soccer star Vinícius Júnior in first-of-its-kind conviction

England soccer players receive racist abuse
England soccer players racially abused after defeat to Italy in final 04:05

Three Valencia fans have been handed eight-month prison sentences after pleading guilty to racially insulting Real Madrid forward Vinícius Júnior in the first conviction for racism-related cases in professional soccer in Spain.

The fans, whose names weren't released, won't be allowed to enter soccer stadiums for two years and will have to pay for all the court proceedings.

They were detained after a Spanish league match between Real Madrid and Valencia at Mestalla Stadium in May 2023. The match was briefly stopped after Vinícius was insulted.

That incident sparked an outpouring of support for Vinícius, who is Black, and set off widespread calls for action by Spanish authorities and society in general.

Many saw it as a turning point in the fight against racism in Spanish soccer, although Vinícius — who was recently called "the best player in the world" by soccer legend Thierry Henry — continued to be subjected to racist abuse several months after the initial uproar that accompanied the incident at Mestalla.

The sentence found the defendants guilty of a crime against moral integrity with the aggravating circumstance of discrimination based on racist motives.

The case was brought before the courts by the Spanish league, which was joined by the Spanish soccer federation, Real Madrid and Vinícius.

In March, Vinícius broke down in tears while talking about the racist insults that he has been subjected to in Spain, saying that he was losing his desire to keep playing.

APTOPIX Spain Vinicius
Vinicius Junior breaks down in tears during a press conference after a training session of the Brazil team ahead of a friendly soccer match against Spain on March 25, 2024, in Valdebebas, Madrid, Spain. Oscar J. Barroso/AP

"It's something very sad what I have been going through here," Vinícius said at the time. "It's tough. I've been fighting against this for a long time. It's exhausting because you feel like you are alone. I've made so many official complaints but no one is ever punished."

Valencia had already banned the fans shortly after the incident at its stadium. But no one had ever gone to trial in Spain for racially abusing a player, and many similar cases of abuse like the one faced by Vinícius had been shelved by prosecutors in the past.

In January, FIFA president Gianni Infantino advocated for the introduction of automatic forfeits for teams whose fans racially abuse opposition players, CBS Sports reported.

Racism has plagued the sport for years. Last year, New York Red Bulls forward Dante Vanzeir was suspended for six games by Major League Soccer for using racist language during a game against the San Jose Earthquakes.

In 2021, three Black players were targeted with racist abuse after England's loss to Italy in the European Championship finals. Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka helped carry the team through the tournament, but they missed penalty shots in the final match against Italy, sparking a torrent of racist abuse online.

In 2017, midfielder Everton Luiz left the field in tears after persistent racist chants during his team's victory over Rad in the Serbian league.

At the 2014 World Cup, two Argentine fans were arrested for taunting a black player as a "little monkey."

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