LaLiga president says he would back Vinicius Jr to walk off the pitch if the Real Madrid star faced further racist abuse; outspoken Javier Tebas labelled "embarrassing" and "horribly out of touch" after extraordinary and uncomfortable 86-minute news conference
Friday 26 May 2023 06:12, UK
LaLiga president Javier Tebas claims his organisation could eradicate racism from Spanish football in six months if given adequate sanctioning powers.
The issue hit the headlines on Sunday when Real Madrid winger Vinicius Junior spoke out after being abused at Valencia, highlighting "continuous episodes across several cities" and suggesting LaLiga "belongs to the racists".
His club responded to the latest incident by filing a hate crime complaint with the Spanish State Attorney General's Office.
Tebas gave a tetchy response to Vinicius on social media, for which he subsequently apologised, and at a news conference on Thursday he complained the league's hands are tied by laws which mean LaLiga can currently only identify and report incidents and punishment is rarely handed out.
"What we want is the power to do more things. With the power we are convinced within months this would be solved," he told the specially-arranged conference.
"We are going along the legal route, and I think in six months' time this will be at zero and we will be the best league in the world. The competencies we want are for those intolerable behaviours - racism, homophobia."
When challenged on his six-month solution claim, Tebas added: "We have been able to have economic control to stop our clubs going bankrupt so if we are given the competencies we can put an end to this because it is easier to stop than financial control.
"Tomorrow, a communique will go to the head of government and political parties requesting the law is urgently modified against racism, xenophobia and intolerance and requesting the (Spanish Football) Federation and LaLiga to have competencies."
Asked why LaLiga had not made such a request before, Tebas said: "That was probably a mistake of ours too, but we thought we were making progress in the courts when we made complaints directly. We have seen it is not enough and we need greater agility and more speed to solve these problems more quickly."
In the interim, Tebas said Vinicius would have his full backing should he decide to walk off the pitch in the face of further racist abuse.
"If he feels affected of course I'd encourage him to leave the pitch," he added. "He and the whole team could abandon it. That is the decision of the referee, but I'd encourage him to leave the pitch - he will be supported by me personally and LaLiga."
LaLiga has set up dedicated reporting channels, via email and its website, in order to speed up the identification of people who engage in racist behaviour but since the creation of LaLiga's integrity and security department in 2015, there have only been, according to documentation provided by LaLiga, more than a dozen racist incidents linked to matches reported - fewer than two a year.
However, LaLiga also lists nine separate incidents relating to Vinicius since December 2020 - four of which have been resolved and with only two found to have featured racism, with the clubs involved allowed to issue sanctions themselves.
Tebas denied Spain was a racist country but admitted he was concerned about the league's worldwide image in the light of the latest accusations, although he did not think it would deter black players from signing for LaLiga clubs.
"If I weren't concerned, I'd be crazy. Of course, I am concerned and we will work to find a solution to turn this image around. Spanish football is not racist," said Tebas, who said he would speak to Vinicius when things had "calmed down" but had contacted sponsors to offer reassurances.
"We think it doesn't reflect reality. This is unexpected and difficult but something we have to face up to, we can't just hide and cry in the corner.
"We do protect black sportspeople from any racism. We will continue to protect them from any insults they receive on the field, in their professional career and outside their professional career."
Sky Sports News senior reporter Rob Dorsett:
"This was an extraordinary press conference. Tebas answered every question openly, but my interpretation was that some of those answers were embarrassing, some of them seemed horribly out of touch.
"There are, of course, cultural differences and language barriers at play here, maybe, but this felt like Tebas trying to backpedal and make amends for the hugely damaging comments he made towards Vinicius Jr where he diminished his experience of racism.
"There were one or two really uncomfortable moments where Tebas talked of the racist comments he heard in stadiums of the past, and he almost mimicked that language, using one word which was grossly offensive.
"It was a really difficult watch for the majority of those 86 minutes.
"Incredibly, he said he could solve the problem of racism in Spain 'within months' if LaLiga were given the powers to crack down on it.
"Tebas admitted the affair had been very damaging to LaLiga's reputation on the world stage and you couldn't help but feel there was a commercial aspect to this news conference, that Tebas was speaking as much to try and reassure sponsors as much as he was players like Vinicius Jr.
"Perhaps the most extraordinary comment from Tebas came at the end of the conference. His response, while laughing, of 'we don't count them', when asked how many black people worked with him at LaLiga was absolutely staggering and spoke volumes about what's going on at LaLiga at the moment."