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Real Madrid players wear Vinícius Júnior’s jersey before the Spanish league match

MADRID (AP) — Vinícius Júnior wasn’t on the pitch but his Real Madrid teammates all came out wearing his No. 20 shirt to support the Brazilian striker ahead of the game against Rayo Vallecano in the Spanish league on Wednesday.

Vinícius came out briefly to greet the fans as Madrid players, including those who were not in the squad for the game, lined up with their backs to the stands showing Vinícius’ shirt. Vinícius watched the match alongside club president Florentino Pérez.

In the 20th minute, fans cheered and chanted his name, many on their feet. The Brazilian stood up and waved from the VIP section.

Outside the Santiago Bernabeu stadium, many fans arrived posting messages condemning racism and praising Vinícius. Inside, a huge banner was displayed behind one of the goals with the words “We are all Vinicius. Enough.”

As part of a new anti-racism campaign by the Spanish league, the Spanish football federation and the government, a banner with the words ‘racists out of football’ was held up by players from both teams ahead of the game. Players from both teams wore armbands with anti-racism messages. Slogans against racism were broadcast during the national and international broadcast of the match.

Vinícius, who suffered another case of racial abuse on Sunday, did not play due to what the club said was a minor knee problem.

Vinícius received a red card for an altercation in the game against Valencia on Sunday, but the card was later canceled as the video review failed to show the referees footage of the full altercation, including the part in which the Brazilian was caught from behind by an opponent.

Coach Carlo Ancelotti had said he was considering giving Vinícius a rest regardless of the suspension after the stressful days he went through following the latest case of abuse against him.

Earlier on Wednesday, Valencia said they would appeal the partial closure of their stadium following racial abuse directed at Vinícius in a league match, saying the punishment was “unfair and disproportionate”.

Spain’s soccer competition committee on Tuesday fined Valencia 45,000 euros ($48,500) and closed one of the sections of the Mestalla stadium for five games in what is the toughest punishment ever handed out to a club in a case of racism in Spain.

The punishment was part of a strong response from football 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 the victim of repeated racial slurs since arriving to play in Spain five years ago. The 22-year-old Brazilian striker has strongly criticized Spain for its lack of action against racism after the latest incident against him.

“Valencia wants to express its total disagreement and outrage at the unjust and disproportionate sanction imposed by the competition committee,” the club said in a statement on Wednesday morning. “Valencia wants to publicly denounce that the evidence presented 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 they weren’t given the chance to defend themselves before the decision was made. The club said it cooperated with the police from the start and acted strongly to condemn what happened at its stadium.

Valencia said shortly after the match that they would work with the authorities to identify those responsible for the abuse, and a day later banned someone for life for being involved in the incident against Vinícius.

With the club’s cooperation, police on Sunday arrested three hate crime suspects over their abuse allegations against the Brazilian, all of whom were banned for life from the stadium. The club said that was the maximum penalty they could impose.

“Punishing fans who were not involved in these dismal incidents is a completely disproportionate, unfair and unprecedented measure,” Valencia said. “We will fight until the end.”

All three have spoken to police and have been released as the investigation against them continues. Four other people have been arrested in Madrid after being accused of hanging an effigy of Vinícius on a road bridge in January. They are expected to testify before a judge who will then decide whether to proceed with the case.

Fans have already been fined and banned for attacks on Vinícius, but so far no one in Spain has ever been tried for racially abusing a player.

Spain created a specific law against violence, racism, xenophobia and intolerance in sport in 2007, and since then an anti-violence commission made up of several entities has been responsible for monitoring and denouncing cases that may to break the law.

But current legislation states that not all cases of racism can be criminally punished, only those in which there is an additional element affecting the victim. Most cases, including many similar to those involving Valencia fans, end up falling into a category in which the punishment only includes fines and stadium bans.

Valencia, still battling relegation to the second tier, have just one home league game left this season, against Espanyol on Sunday. Espanyol are also trying to avoid demotion. Valencia are in 13th place, five points clear of the relegation zone.

The section of Mestalla that will be closed is where the insults against Vinícius come from, behind one of the goals. It’s also where the club’s most hardcore fans are usually found.

The committee also overturned the red card shown to Vinícius on Tuesday night in a highly unusual move that surprised many.

“Acts of racism and insults should be censored, but what happens on the pitch is different,” Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez said. “It is clear that there was an aggression (from Vinícius) and I am surprised that they removed the red card. One thing has nothing to do with the other.”

Late Tuesday, around 100 Brazilian protesters gathered outside the Spanish consulate in Sao Paulo to condemn the racist abuse against Vinícius. Protesters chanted “La Liga is racist” and “End with racism in Spain and Brazil” for around an hour.


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