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Pepe Reina: “Spain is not racist, or at least not more racist than other countries”

The Spanish goalkeeper says he is against racism but also made a point to talk about “provoking”

Villarreal v Real Madrid - Spanish Copa del Rey Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images

In an interview with Marca, the Spanish sports newspaper, Pepe Reina, the veteran goalkeeper of Villarreal, gave his thoughts on Vinicius Jr., the star winger of Real Madrid, and the problem of racism in Spanish football.

Reina, who has played for clubs like Liverpool and Napoli in his long career, said that he thinks racists should be banned and that there is no place for it in Spanish football; but also that Spain is not a racist country, and there are things that Vinicius can do better with his actions on the field.

“First and foremost, any racist behavior must be stopped,” Reina told Marca. “Then, I do not believe that there is racism in all the stadiums in Spain or that an entire stadium is racist. There are the typical fools who are difficult to always contain. What you have to do is identify them and never enter a stadium again. Those four, eight or thousand who called Vinicius a ‘monkey’ must be condemned. It’s sad that this happens.

“Having said that, I see that sometimes it’s not just racism, it’s not that a fan is racist or not, but rather that they take it out on a specific player, because he can talk too much at one point... It’s happened to us everyone, me included. As a general reflection, the less you provoke the stands, the less you provoke the rivals and the less you protest to the referee, the more respect you will have from everyone.”

Reina said that while Vinicius should not suffer racist abuse, he’s also not doing much to help his situation, and continued to double down on his stance.

“I, from my humble position, even if only because of seniority, told Vinicius to dedicate himself more to playing, that he should focus more on that, on being a great footballer, because he is, fast, unbalancing, already defining well a goal,” Reina said of his altercation with Vinicius in a La Liga game earlier this season. “He is becoming one of the best in the world. But I think he must also mature in behavior, in having more respect for his rivals, in understanding some unwritten football values ​​or codes. That would improve his performance. It can’t be that every game away from home is a war for him.”

Vinicius has faced racist chants and insults from fans of Osasuna, Mallorca, Real Valladolid, Valencia, Atletico Madrid and more. In September, he was compared to a monkey on Spanish TV by a pundit. Around that same time, an effigy with his shirt was hanged from a bridge near Real’s training ground.

Vinicius has repeatedly called for the authorities to clamp down on racism in Spanish football, but so far there have been no punishments handed down by Spain’s leading football authority - the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) - or any local prosecutors. La Liga, Spain’s top football division, says that it does not have the authority to punish clubs or fans for incidents of racist abuse. Instead, it can only pass on any incidents of abuse to RFEF committees or regional prosecutors, who deal with them as legal cases before sporting punishments are handed out.

The Spanish Players’ Union (AFE), which helps to support victims of racist abuse in La Liga, says that Spain’s penal code considers these incidents to be hate crimes and punishable by law. However, following an investigation into racist chants aimed at Vinicius during Real’s match against Atletico in September 2022, La Liga told CNN that the local Madrid prosecutor did not pursue the case because the yells were within the context of other “unpleasant and disrespectful” chants during a “football match of maximum rivalry”.

It wasn’t until last Monday, where the Spanish police finally detained four people for hanging the effigy back in September. They have since been released with a restraining order, whereby they are not allowed to come into contact with Vinicius nor enter any La Liga stadium for the rest of their lives.

The situation of Vinicius and other players who face racism in Spanish football has sparked outrage and concern among fans, media and other players. Many have called for more action and awareness from the authorities and the society to tackle this problem. Reina’s interview with Marca is one of the latest examples of how many in Spain are still struggling to understand the problems.

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