SÃO PAULO – A Brazilian non-governmental organization called “Educafro,” led by Franciscan Father David Santos, is preparing to file a lawsuit against Spain at the European Court of Human Rights due to several racist attacks against soccer player Vinicius Jr during matches of Spain’s national championship, La Liga.

Since 2021, Vinicius Jr, a Real Madrid winger who was born in Brazil and has African ancestry, has been insulted on many occasions by fans of his club’s adversaries in Spanish stadiums. He was repeatedly called “monkey” and heard people making monkey sounds and telling him to pick up bananas.

On May 21, during a match in Valencia against the city’s club, numerous local fans directed monkey chants at Vinicius, who reacted and had an argument with some of them at the stadium. After the game, he affirmed on Twitter that “racism is normal in La Liga” and that clubs incentivize such actions. He added that he would struggle against racists till the end.

The incident spurred outrage in Brazil, where Vinicius Jr is one of the major members of the national soccer squad. Several soccer players and politicians, including President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, showed their solidarity and condemned the racist attacks. Lula’s administration also released a statement saying that it regrets the Spanish authorities’ lack of action in the case.

On May 22, the Christ the Redeemer shrine in Rio de Janeiro turned off the lights of the giant sculpture for one hour as a sign of protest against racism. On May 25, Black rights movements marched in Rio de Janeiro and Brasília to protest racism in Spain.

On the same day, Educafro, an NGO that struggles for the rights of Black people and promotes education, released a public letter about the case. The organization manifested its repudiation to the aggressions suffered by Vinicius Jr and accused the Spanish authorities of failing to act against the racist attackers.

“Previous incidents led the organization to take legal action against Pedro Bravo Jimenez, president of the Spanish Association of Soccer Players Agents, and MEGA TV station in October of 2022,” the letter read, alluding to the racist remarks made by Bravo in a TV show last year.

On that occasion, the participants of a TV debate were discussing the fact that Vinicius Jr usually dances to celebrate his goals, a rather common practice in Brazil. Bravo argued that such habit was disrespectful towards the opponents. He said that Vinicius Jr should go “to sambódromo in Brazil” and that he should “stop playing the monkey.”

Educafro and other Brazilian NGOs filed a lawsuit in Brazil a few weeks later and are demanding US$ 2 million in damages. The case is still being analyzed in court.

The letter mentioned the anti-racism provisions of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and the intention of filing a lawsuit at the European Court of Human Rights.

“Educafro Brasil fully supports Vinicius Jr and completely repudiates such inhuman acts of racism. We are engaged in combating racial discrimination in all forms [and] we are prepared to take additional measures to support not only that player but also the broader cause of racial diversity and inclusion in all soccer stadiums,” the document said.

According to lawyer Marlon Reis, Educafro’s legal advisor, the “Spanish legislation lacks norms to adequately deal with that kind of occurrence.”

“The applicable rules in that situation are part of the sports legislation and sanctions are too low,” he told Crux.

The idea, Reis said, is to plead against Spain and demand that it properly regulates such issues.

“Spain has been for a long time an arena for racism in soccer. Vinicius Jr had a courageous attitude and decided to fight back. He is doing something very important against racism in the sports,” Reis argued.

Educafro expects that the case ends up influencing the norms not only in Spain, but also in other European nations, and that tougher penalties become common in cases of racism.

“We understand that it is about time to develop a new awareness regarding racism in the sports in the whole world. We cannot tolerate it anymore,” Father David Santos, a longtime Black activist and Educafro’s founder, told Crux.

Santos affirmed that the organization will also pressure the Brazilian soccer confederation to adopt a set of rules concerning ethnic diversity.

“That must be a turning point for the sports in Europe and in Brazil,” he concluded.